A high-rise resort which exceeds a building height limit at Airlie Beach is a step closer after a court dismissed an appeal by an environmental group.
Local association Save our Foreshore (SOF) challenged the Whitsunday Regional Council (WRC) and developer Meridien in the Planning and Environment Court over the preliminary approval granted for a material change of use at 22 Coconut Grove.
In his 50-page decision handed down this month, Judge Rackemann stated it was common ground that the building height of 46.7 metres exceeded the 18 metres allowed under the area’s planning scheme, but found that “the impact of that non-compliance is, in the circumstances, minor and the proposed built form and landscaping is otherwise meritorious and will make a positive contribution”.
The proposed resort complex is 12 storeys and includes 180 hotel rooms, a conference/function centre, a roof terrace, and retail and dining components. It would be the first luxury-standard accommodation for the town considered the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.
Issues in dispute included whether the development: was needed; would promote tourism and economic growth; was of an appropriate height, scale, character and design; would advance or compromise outcomes sought by the Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday Regional Plan; and would protect natural landscape values.
Judge Rackemann said he accepted there was a public or community and an economic need for the proposal, which was granted preliminary approval in April last year.
However, the proposal did “not accord with reasonable expectations as to height”, being “greatly in excess of the nominated height” for the precinct and significantly taller than existing development in Airlie Beach, he said.
“In the circumstances it is unsurprising that public notification of the development application provoked a large number of adverse submissions. The height of the proposal and general opposition to high-rise development in Airlie Beach were recurring themes of those submissions,” he said.
SOF argued the other non-compliances all flowed from the non-compliance with the height provisions and associated scale of the proposed development.
“It was submitted, for SOF, that since visual amenity (and the acceptability of visual impacts) is inherently somewhat subjective and nebulous, these matters should be resolved in favour of giving effect to the height control in the planning scheme,” Judge Rackemann said.
“Whilst I am mindful of the importance of the planning scheme provisions, I do not consider it appropriate to close my mind to the prospect of exercising the statutory discretion in favour of a proposal which exceeds the designated maximum.
“Nor do I consider it appropriate for me to assume, without due consideration of the evidence, that a proposal which exceeds the designated height will necessarily have a level of impact which calls for the adverse exercise of the statutory discretion.”
He said the development would have only minor impacts on the visual backdrop and was not inconsistent with the protection of core landscape values.
“The proposed building form is not monolithic. It has been designed to reduce visual bulk by a range of measures, including by breaking the built form into components,” he said.
He said he also accepted expert evidence that “not only will the proposal not overbear, overwhelm or dominate the intended streetscape character in any adverse way, but will also make a positive contribution”.
Judge Rackemann was also satisfied the proposal would attract an operator that could attain and sustain a level of service for a luxury market.
“The proposal would address a public or community need to improve the extent and adequacy of the facilities offered in Airlie Beach in circumstances where there is a clear gap in what is currently offered,” he said.
“Further, the market is strong and growing, such that more facilities are and will be required.”
Judge Rackemann said the site was strategically located and suitable, and the scale of the facilities would bring a range of benefits and support the objectives of the regional plan.
“The proposal responds to a significant, public or community need as well as an economic need. The proposal is an appropriate response to that need, including having regard to the type and scale of facilities proposed,” he concluded.
The proceedings also involved an appeal by Meridian against certain conditions imposed on the approval (following an order to consolidate the appeals).
Judge Rackemann ordered the appeals be adjourned to permit the parties to prepare terms of order incorporating amendments to the conditions of approval and the variations.