Controversial 1770 development decision spurs robust debate
JUGGLING concerns of the community and a pioneering family of Seventeen Seventy, with potential legal costs footed by ratepayers, caused a robust debate between Gladstone Region councillors this week.
On the agenda at Tuesday's council meeting was a development application for a Material Change of Use of premises for proposed accommodation at the 1770 Beach Hotel, also known as The Tree Bar.
On Captain Cook Dr and only a stone's throw from the heritage-listed Cook's Landing Place, the 1156sqm site has 51 metres of road frontage with breathtaking views over Round Hill Creek and Bustard Bay.
The site backs onto an Elliot St property owned by Jim and Jenny Elliot, who have family roots in 1770 dating back to the 1800s.
Despite the site having a long history of development applications, the current proposal was received by the council in April last year.
The original submission was for a four-storey building positioned nine metres above natural ground level, but concessions in height, apartment density, an adjustment to site access by car and tweaks in the building design occurred after "rigorous assessment and negotiation between (the) Council, the applicant and the community".
The most notable amendments were a reduction to three storeys and a height 8.5m above natural ground level.
Once a 30-day public notification period expired in March this year, 260 submissions were received by the council.
One submission was from the Elliots, who filed a 3000-word objection covering several concerns.
The seven-page objection outlined their family history, concerns of a loss of view from their property and potential instability of the soil on the development site.
Not only do the Elliots say their view and those of neighbouring properties will be affected, they hold grave fears for a proposed excavation over 10m deep only feet from their fenceline.
"To excavate for a building you have to get to the bottom of the foundations and that could be at 10m and up to 12m deep to encompass foundation construction," said Mr Elliot, a retired engineer.
"To do that in the sand hill, approximately 1m from our property boundary in a vertical excavation is almost impossible to guarantee safety and stability of the houses behind it.
"This will likely be done by sheet pile driving that requires a crane with a drilling hammers that are driven into the ground to stop it slipping down hill, but the very act of drilling would cause massive reverberations up the hill that would almost certainly destroy the foundations of buildings behind it.
"It's infeasible by practical engineering standards to excavate safety in that type of material.
"A lot of that excavation will be done in acid sulfate soil and acid sulfate in itself brings enormous construction problems because it's basically a toxic and noxious substance that has to be handled under very strict control.
"It's material you just can't dump somewhere and once you disturb it you've got to be careful about it, so the problem is amplified because of lot of that excavation is in that acid sulfate material."
Council manager of development services Helen Robertson delivered the report at Tuesday's meeting.
"Members of the community have rightly followed the evolution of this application, most notably the members of the Elliot family who have provided excellent history and local perspective," Ms Robertson said.
She said the approval is subject to 42 conditions including "a detailed operational works application requiring further reports to be considered including details around acid sulfate soil testing, geo-technical engineering report with respect to stability both during construction and the operational life of the proposal".
"In addition, a streetscaping master plan is required to address the existing interface between the site and the Captain Cook Dr frontage," she said.
"In overview the recommendation provides for a good development outcome by virtue of the engagement and involvement between (the) council, the applicant and community.
"As such, the application is recommended for approval subject to the conditions outlined in the report."
After hearing Ms Robertson's presentation, councillors discussed a variety of concerns for 45 minutes.
Mayor Matt Burnett complimented Ms Robertson's 48-page report, but was the first to ask whether the water views from the buildings behind the subject site would be impacted by the development.
Ms Robertson cited the half-metre reduction in height as an improvement, which was quickly met with head shakes from the Elliots in the gallery.
Only seven councillors were present for the report after Cr Desley O'Grady excused herself due to a conflict of interest and the resignation of Cindi Bush the day before.
Councillors voted 4-3 in favour of the application with Crs Glenn Churchill, Peter Masters and Kahn Goodluck voting against it, each citing various concerns.
Cr Churchill still had "major concerns" while alluding that the council was still dealing with planning schemes of the past prior to amalgamation in 2008.
He also questioned footpath access near the site, as did Cr PJ Sobhanian who expressed concern over pedestrian safety.
Cr Masters questioned the soil stability and raised whether landslides were possible during the excavation phase.
He had also questioned environmental outcomes and potential traffic and parking issues, as did Crs Goodluck and Cr Rick Hansen who feared a traffic bottleneck could form near the site.
Cr Goodluck raised concerns at what protections were in place for the buildings on top of the hill behind the subject site if something happened during building.
"How are these people and their houses that have been there for a long time protected? Because you're talking about a fairly substantial chunk of the hill being removed where other dwellings exist," he said.
"Hypothetically, in a worst-case scenario, if an engineer approved everything and we get halfway through construction and we have a collapse with buildings potentially affected on the hill, what's the process if the said engineer declares bankruptcy, gets deregistered and disappears? I'm still wondering what protection there is for numerous people that live in that area."
Ms Robertson was unable to provide advice to Cr Goodluck regarding his question, but stated "I cannot refuse a compliant development application on a medium density site on the basis of something that might happen sometime in the future".
"The parameters that I have in deciding a recommendation are set by the planning scheme," she said.
"There are methods in which I can manage the ongoing construction but I can't base a recommendation of approval or refusal on a potential result of an impact as a result of that development."
Deputy mayor Chris Trevor, who is also a solicitor, addressed the legal ramifications that could possibly arise if the application was rejected.
"For me it comes down to not whether I agree with the proposal or not, but whether if I voted to reject it I would leave the ratepayers of the Gladstone Region a unnecessary and expensive legal cost by way of appeal by the developer," he said.
The development application was prepared by Zone Planning Group on behalf of Four King Pty Ltd.