Headlands Hotel developer changes tack

Austinmer's Headlands Hotel developers are continuing a controversial push to remove conditions preventing permanent residency at a $25 million hotel complex planned for the prime coastal land.

Site owners, the Stevens Group, reached a deadlock with Wollongong City Council last year after failing in a bid to allow residents of the proposed 69 serviced apartments to live at the site all year round.

The council rejected the request because it said allowing permanent occupants would be inconsistent with the site's tourism zoning and "set an undesirable precedent for similar inappropriate development".

The developers have now suggested a "compromise", which involves removing the restrictions but applying a "serviced apartments management agreement" to force apartment owners to rent out their homes for at least three months each year. Planning documents say this solution would deter buyers who did not want to rent out their property and prevent them from living there indefinitely. "Whilst it is acknowledged that an owner/occupier could quite possibly reside within the unit intermittently throughout the year, this cannot be an indefinite period," they said.

The Stevens Group is seeking permanent residency approval as it hopes to sell the apartments off the plan.

It said research showed restrictions made the apartments a high-risk investment, making development "financially unfeasible".

"[This] is understood to have generally precluded the development from going ahead to date," the documents said. "[T]he subject site is in desperate need of redevelopment which has been unattainable for the past decade or more."

The site has been the subject of 15 development applications in 28 years. Submissions on the modified proposal close on March 21.

‘Stealth’ construction worries residents

Austinmer residents fear the easing of permanent residency restrictions at serviced apartments proposed for the Headlands Hotel site will set a dangerous precedent for the future development of NSW coastal land.

Last October, resident John Spira accused Stevens Group  of trying to ‘‘build a residential apartment block by stealth’’ on the Brickyard Point headland.

He said the latest push to remove occupancy restrictions had not changed his mind.

Mr Spira said Austinmer citizens believed the Stevens Group’s plans would allow the serviced apartments to be used as permanent homes, because a condition requiring them to lease the properties for at least three months could be easily circumvented.

‘‘For example, an owner could lease a unit to another family member for the required minimum period each year,’’ he said.

‘‘And I want to know how on earth the council is going to police the leasing patterns of these units...it would be impossible.’’

He said the council would set a dangerous precedent if it allowed the proposal to go ahead.

‘‘It’s not just residents of Austinmer that are going to be affected, because it opens up the precedent for similar developments up and down the Illawarra coast,’’ he said.

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