A decision to stall Kennards Self Storage's multimillion-dollar plans to set up shop in Kemblawarra is "one of the worst planning decisions" Wollongong City Council has ever made, according to Liberal councillor Michelle Blicavs.
After a heated debate over a rescission motion at Monday's council meeting, Cr Blicavs said her fellow councillors risked repeatedly turning away investment in the city.
Councillors voted 7-6 to go back on their May 13 decision to ask NSW Planning to allow storage premises in all heavy industry-zoned areas in Wollongong.
The May 13 decision came after Kennards requested an amendment to the heavy industrial zone covering Kemblawarra Industrial Precinct and Business Park, where it hopes to build a self-storage facility.
Self-storage units were previously allowed in the heavy industry zone but are prohibited under the current Local Environment Plan.
Councillors originally backed the Kennards proposal, but rescinded the decision this week.
Instead they resolved to investigate rezoning the Kemblawarra site to a light industrial zone, which would allow the self-storage facility to go ahead.
Cr Blicavs said she was dismayed the council had delayed the project, saying it reminded her of other decisions to delay and then ultimately reject projects like a factory outlet at Kembla Grange and a 120-bed aged-care facility in Wollongong.
"My concern is that here is another opportunity of investment in our city that we are turning away," she said.
"And I'm just concerned we're seeing a pattern.
"Development opportunities come up and in some cases it warrants a small change to the zoning.
"Things change and we need to be versatile and flexible enough to determine when a change is valid."
Ms Blicavs argued self-storage units were "a great incubator" which allowed small businesses to start up without high costs.
But independent councillor Vicki Curran said the Kemblawarra site would be better used by businesses employing hundreds of people.
Cr Curran, who moved the rescission motion, said she knew of at least two businesses that needed access to large parcels of heavy industrial land which was in short supply in the Illawarra.
She said allowing the storage facility to proceed would reduce the amount of land available to heavy industry, instead creating "passive use" of the prime site.
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery supported the rescission motion, but said he was not against the storage facility going ahead.
Instead, he wanted to "err on the side of caution" when it came to varying planning rules.
"A zoning from my perspective is there for a reason and should be stuck there until the LEP is amended accordingly," he said.
"I want to emphasise that we are not going to be a council that is easily pushed over when a developer or investor wants us to go a certain way.
"We have got ourselves into a lot of trouble in this city in the past with these sort of flexibilities."
The council will revisit the plan to rezone the Kemblawarra site as light industrial land in July.