Ambitious Gateway project: not on this site

The curse of Wollongong's most controversial block of land has struck again.

The ambitious Bass and Flinders gateway complex, to have been built on the site once flagged for the corruption-laden "Quattro" development, has been knocked back because of serious concerns over its soaring height.

Despite comparing their project to the Sydney Opera House and Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, developers have failed to convince the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) of its merits.

The triangular site, bounded by Flinders, Keira and Campbell streets, has been dogged by controversy since it featured in the infamous Wollongong City Council development scandal in 2008.

The council bought the site in 2011 before agreeing to sell it to Malaysian-Australian consortium Gateway Wollongong in 2012 on the condition they develop a master plan.

The $135 million complex, designed by award-winning international architect Stephen Pimbley, prompted Gateway Wollongong to seek to rezone the site, allowing for a much higher and more dense set of buildings.

This was referred to the JRPP last year amid concerns over a conflict of interest if the council was to remain as the major landholder as well as the planning regulator.

In a meeting to decide the proposal's fate on Friday, proponents were asked to justify building heights more than twice the current limits.

However, their explanations fell short, leading the panel to unanimously vote it should not proceed to the next stage.

When asked by panel member Michael Mantel the reason for requesting a 60-metre height allowance, project manager Carl Alderson likened the Bass and Flinders Gateway to renaissance art.

"[Architect Stephen Pimbley] came to Wollongong for the first time ... and he drew upon the relationship of the escarpment to the sea and from that he evolved a design of 60 metres," Mr Alderson said.

"Now in terms of a technical response, it really isn't possible to say how he came up with that...why did Leonardo Da Vinci draw the Mona Lisa the way he drew that?"

They were also asked to explain how they would deliver the project on land, which is owned by various parties, and explain why the complex should be exempt from state requirements for building separations and solar access.

To this, Mr Alderson repeatedly said the plans were in the "very early stages" and assured the panel these issues would be dealt with once the proposal was approved.

But panellists said that they could not support the proposal until these were overcome.

"The justification for the height is based on an iconic building, but the planning proposal doesn't tie the development of this site ... to the development of that building," Mr Mantel said.

"So once the planning proposal is made in that form, any building of 60 metres could be put there, not just this iconic building."

Developer Jan Lindrum, who has championed the project as Wollongong's version of the Opera House said she was "horribly disappointed", but indicated she would not give up.

She said she would be "debriefing" with her Gateway Wollongong co-directors with a view to reforming the planning proposal.

"We will definitely be going forward if I have anything to do with it," she said.

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