After more than nine months of objections from heritage campaigners, a proposal to build an eight-storey luxury apartment complex in Wollongong's harbourside precinct has been knocked back by planning officials.
Developers had hoped to demolish and excavate the 1930s block Marlene Court, at 1 Smith Street, to make way for a tall, black structure which would have had included a three-level penthouse and basement car park
Since it emerged last October, the plan proved controversial, with heritage campaigners and residents of the area collective more than 1000 signatures to the block from demolition.
They argued the building would be a "blight, looming over the street in the highly-prized heritage precinct" and should be knocked back to keep the "heritage corridor" between Belmore Basin and Market Square a low-rise area.
The precinct is a "special area" under Wollongong's heritage controls, as it is the site of the earliest European occupation of the city.
The first version of the plans was deemed too large for the block by council planners and the independent Wollongong Local Planning Panel (WLPP), with developers asked to reduce the "bulk" of the building - especially the upper storeys - for it to be reconsidered.
After a second round of consultation, residents continued to object to the second version of the plan, and Wollongong council staff also said this should be rejected as it was "not in the public interest".
They argued that the revised design did not "achieve design excellence" and said they considered" that the proposed height and bulk of the development would adversely impact upon streetscape and adjoining special area".
"Approval of the development would set an undesirable precedent for similar inappropriate development," the council said.
Last week, the plans were debated at a second WLPP meeting, with developers expressing frustration that the building was not being viewed favourably.
Site owner Keiran Biddle said he had responded to multiple requests from the council's design review panel and the planning panel, and could not understand how the building could be recommended for rejection.
He argued the designers had made "substantial reductions" to the building since the last panel meeting, which advised them to cut the building size and bulk.
"I am at a loss, the justification for this - if it exists - totally escapes me," Mr Biddle said.
Town planner Luke Rollinson said he was disappointed and frustrated, and was "struggling to see how the council are now recommending refusal based on a purely subjective opinion".
Handing down their decision, panel members agreed that the plan remained too large for the block, despite requests that it be scaled back.
They also said the developers had failed to argue the case for a variation to the council's usual development standards.
"It is acknowledged that the applicant has made some minor alterations to the upper three storeys in response to the previous Panel comments," they said.
"However, the Panel considers that the alterations made do not achieve the design principle (as previously set out by the Panel) of creating a podium at the fifth level so that the building would sit more comfortably in the context of Harbour Street"
"The triangular shape, small site area and narrow width of the lot, combined with the presence of the adjacent special heritage area, presents significant challenges and constraints to achieving a development of the height and bulk proposed."
"The Panel considers that any development of this site should be more sympathetic to the surrounding lower scale context and to the nearby heritage items."