Discussion Paper: Progress of the Nelson Bay Town Centre & Foreshore Strategy.
EcoNetwork-Port Stephens Inc. welcomes the Discussion Paper as a step forward following four years of unfortunate delay in implementing the Council’s April 2012 decision on Clause 4.6 – Variation to Development Standards, which we also welcomed at that time.
The following is an EcoNetwork advisory response to the Discussion Paper:
- For an aesthetically appealing, functional & sustainable town
Nelson Bay is unique in that it has a natural amphitheatre profile with supporting elevations to the south, east and west, and foreshore on the bay to the north.
This natural context must define what can and cannot – or should not – be built to preserve the character and aesthetics that make Nelson Bay an idyllic place to live and work in, and attract the tourist trade. This natural setting now precariously co-exists with increasing human intervention. More care not less is needed.
In this context, we believe the natural environment on which we all depend must always be the first consideration and this can be achieved by applying the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) in planning for economic growth.
- Can this town emerge unscathed from the shadows of high-rise excess?
This threat has hung over Nelson Bay for over 30 years. There was first of all, the 1984 Tall Buildings Study that went nowhere because it was projected and publicly perceived that the Bay and the Tomaree Peninsula were potentially a future city.
This was followed-up in the late 1980’s with proposals from a prominent planner for 15 storeys on the Sea Breeze Hotel site and 2×12 storey towers in Magnus Street, all welcomed enthusiastically by the biggest property owners but which also confirmed sceptical public perceptions about the Tall Buildings Study and helped mobilise the local community in a campaign that ended this grab for increased property values and excessive heights within the Town Centre.
Since that time, Council’s reluctance to redevelop and enforce its own Nelson Bay Control Plan has led to a ‘height creep’ from 5 stories to 6 within the town and more recently to 7 and 8 storeys in its 2015 decision for the Marina Resort’s controversial Magnus Street ridgeline consent. This is now proposed in the Discussion Paper as the new precedent for Nelson Bay (Discussion Paper p 22, 29). We can’t agree!
These continuing Council breaches of its own building code have left the town in this Council-induced limbo, lying between an out-dated Development Control Plan and a determined defence of the long-standing 5-storey limit by local community and business organisations.
This failure of the Council to get its own act together combined with the economic/investor malaise was certainly enough to deter investment and this still demonstrates that Nelson Bay was not the highly sought investment opportunity many people seem to think. History shows this and any objective economic growth analysis could provide the evidence.
- The evolution of progress for Nelson Bay
EcoNetwork has always been reluctant to advocate support for taller buildings in the absence of a credible and sustainable model. Such a proposal finally emerged in 2011 when consultant David Crofts presented the Clause 4.6 – Variation to building standards, which was welcomed by EcoNetwork and TRRA and then adopted by Council in 2012.
However, the Council failed, for reasons outlined in the Discussion Paper–p8, to legalise its decision in the Local Environmental Plan (LEP), a new Development Control Plan (DCP) and the Council Plan (CP).
Four years later the town is still left wondering but not for long it seems as developers are enthusiastic about the concessions and rewards potentially on offer should the Council lose perspective and take their reasonable decision of 2012 from 6 and 7 storeys to 8 and even higher to satisfy the excessive high-rise demands of developers.
- Clause 4.6 – Exception to development standards & implementation
This variation to the original Council decision is likely to take building heights of 5 and 6 to a moderate high-rise at 7 storeys (22.5m). These heights (6,7 storeys) exceed the existing height code of 5 storeys but additional height, not necessarily those proposed, is essential to permit higher ceilings, better floor space ratio, improved insulation against heat, cold and noise and improved overall design, which an outdated DCP fails to do.
EcoNetwork however would accede to these new conditions only should the increased building height incentive ensure a developer meets proposed public domain streetscape and other conditions in return for the additional heights and only extra height at a selected and a limited number of town sites, where over-shadowing and traffic congestion is fully assessed for achieving a sustainable town.
The one outstanding qualification we have about this Clause 4.6 – Exception to development standards is whether it would be successfully prosecuted by the Council.
Our communities will want to see just how the Council would achieve this, other than depending on the vagaries of a majority vote by Councillors and in which case all aspects of Clause 4.6 would need to be statutory LEP requirement and regulation.
- Proposed heights of building – Figure 12 – p28
EcoNetwork will oppose the Blue & Mauve C 7 storey proposal for the Town Centre on the grounds this is an unwarranted concession to developers and defies sound planning. We repeat, our position is to grant the ‘Exception to development standards’ for up to 7 storeys only at selected and appropriate sites. On the blanket coverage (Figure 12) of the Town Centre with 7 storeys, we identify the ‘ Exception to development standard’ for the public domain as being more likely to not apply at all.
Further in relation to Figure 12. We oppose the B- red 4 storey and F – Mauve 7 storey proposals for the waterfront/ marina precinct.
These would constitute a gross over-development of a sensitive location requiring its retention as open space. The F – mauve 7 storey Marina Precinct proposal would most certainly exceed the elevated location of the scenic Apex Park to Dutchies Beach Bridal Path and with the B – red 4 storey proposals extended in a north-east projection would have intrusive and unacceptable effects on the highly valued natural vistas across the Marina Precinct to the west and north to the bay and its far shore. These Figure 12 proposals B, C, & F are unacceptable.
- The precarious progress of building height interpretation
From the EcoNetwork perspective building heights must remain relative to location, ie., to the natural environmental and the built urban/village and town surrounds.
Unfortunately Nelson Bay remains damaged by past decisions and development, so concerned citizens remain sensitive to any radical and transformative changes that have the potential to impose further damage on the location for which they and regular visitors, including regular overseas visitors, share an enduring admiration and affection.
Residents are not opposed to reasonable height increases for appropriate locations as the 7 storey Landmark ‘under’ Kurrara Hill would testify. The Nelson Bay ‘height creep’ that began with the existing 6 storeys of Nelson Towers (Victoria Parade), the Vogue (Magnus Street east) and Cote d’Azure (Donald St.)
Further ‘height creep’ was achieved through manipulating a weak outdated Development Control Plan and a responsive Council, which continues to the present. For example, the 7 and 8 storey towers proposal for the Marina Resort site has been the result of weak Council compliance with its own regulations, concluding: “any negative effects would not be unreasonable”. These negative effects however are too numerous to be dealt with here.
The current consenting Marina Resort DA now appears to be in limbo and as such could hardly be considered the precedent for the implementation of the Council’s ‘Exceptions to building standards’ strategy.
If it’s to be a precedent we ask, what aspects of the ‘Exceptions” Clause 4.6 developer contributions to the public domain if any, will apply to this 2015 consent?
- What are sustainable town outcomes?
EcoNetwork has consistently advocated and called for sustainable town outcomes and this applies to everything from information flow to the consultation process, decision-making outcomes and implementation. But it also calls on Council to utilise its discretionary powers to strive for on-site carbon emissions reduction through the use of solar energy supply and to ease the pressures on our finite water resources through the on-site harvesting and storage of grey water.
This can be justified on the scientific evidence of the urgency needed for carbon emissions reductions towards achieving a low emissions economy and a sustainable town.
- Excessive, outrageous building heights proposed for Bay car parks
The Port Stephens Examiner reported (16.2.17) that developer Veritas has been selected to redevelop the Donald Street east car parking site to a potential 21 levels and, with Anglicare, is in negotiations with Council to develop the Donald Street west car parking site to a potential 17 storeys.
These developer proposals are outrageous and unbelievable and certainly there is clearly no regard for aesthetics now and in the future, for appealing amenity of the Bay, and certainly no regard for sustainable outcomes, consideration of which is so far, totally absent from these proposals.
The Veritas proposals are clearly taking advantage of the Council’s largesse indicating its desperation to maximise its advantages while the Council may be open to the excessive heights Veritas is proposing.
These proposals also generate questions and the real purposes behind the Council’s Discussion Paper and the chorus of mayoral and developer sentiment that building heights must go up. As with the Church Street 8 storey proposal, these Veritas proposals are unacceptable.
EcoNetwork and public opinion/expectations are that the Council and Veritas may not be acting without the support of the town’s biggest property owners looking to vastly increase town property values at the expense of the town’s natural aesthetics and long-term appeal.
- More apartments, low occupancy – not a good mix
The Discussion Paper’s proposals for more and taller buildings, ignores local experience, which is likely to cause greater disparities in the apartments available and real annual occupancy rates.
It is commonly known that Nelson Bay apartments for rental are, other than in peak periods, around 75% unoccupied. It is also well-known that any benefits that may accrue from increased high-rise, do so for developers and for the biggest property owners in town through elevated Town Centre property values.
- For a holistic & sustainable traffic and parking plan
This has been a long-standing policy of community groups while it is still possible to reduce increasing traffic congestion particularly in the high tourist season. Reliance on above -ground parking in the absence of multi-level parking stations is far from desirable and certainly not sustainable as the Discussion Paper p 37 seems to concede.
As this situation becomes even more unsustainable we can expect that unwanted short-sighted engineering solutions such as metered parking and traffic lights will be proposed to the detriment of good planning and improved road design for pedestrian safety. If there is one sure way that would push local shoppers to the Salamander Centre it would be through metered parking.
The potential outcomes for Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay seem to be to allow the traffic congestion problems to grow to crisis proportions when sustainable planning options will become far more costly. Gridlocked main streets in these towns during peak periods will deter both visitors and residents who are here to escape from big city traffic conditions but can be subjected to more of the same as Council traffic and parking strategies continue to focus on these failing strategies rather than holistic, creative solutions and sustainable outcomes.
- We are witnessing what seem to be unprecedented public power-plays in which council officers and developers, utilising the media, throw their considerable combined weight and influence into the public engagement process. This questionable public effort to get endorsement of objectives urgently needs to be replaced by a fair and democratic model of community engagement and consultation.
- Given the current circumstances of rising carbon emissions it would be appropriate for the Council to utilise its discretionary powers to include the key features of carbon footprint reductions to go beyond the NSW Basix requirements by including solar power supply and grey water harvesting and storage.
- Council to reset its planning priorities to begin guiding Nelson Bay towards achieving a sustainable town status through a low carbon emissions economy.
- The Council is requested to remove its proposal to use a 2015 decision (Marina Resort) that breaches the Nelson Bay Development Control Plan, as a precedent in its 2017 Discussion Paper Strategy for Nelson Bay.
- The Clause 4.6 Exceptions to development standards need to be consolidated legally through the LEP, making them a statutory requirement.
- In Figure 12, remove the C 7 storey proposal for the Town Centre and the B- 4 storey and F – 7 storey proposals for the western end of the Marina Precinct.
- That Council dispense with any plans to install metered parking and further traffic lights within the Town Centre.
- That Council refocus its efforts to achieve holistic and sustainable traffic management and better parking options for improved pedestrian safety and Town Centre amenity.