Sekisui House Australia is hoping to build a five-star international hotel and resort development on a 19 hectare beachfront site at Yaroomba.
Sekisui House Australia is hoping to build a five-star international hotel and resort development on a 19 hectare beachfront site at Yaroomba. John McCutcheon

Scene set for Battle of Yaroomba Beach

AN UNPRECEDENTED crescendo of feedback has set the scene for another showdown between Japanese developer Sekisui House and the community.

At the centre of the stand-off is a 19ha patch of beachfront land at Yaroomba which has been earmarked for a 220-room, seven-storey, five-star hotel and 148 serviced apartments along with 753 apartments (3-4 storeys) and 98 homes (2-3 storeys).

Sekisui House is currently seeking a preliminary approval of the Yaroomba Beach Master Plan and a development permit to begin the first stage of the development at the David Low Way site.

More than 10,000 submissions have been made to the Sunshine Coast Council about the controversial proposal, with Division 8 Councillor Jason O'Pray estimating between 13,000-15,000 responses had been received by the council.

The enormous level of response has lit the fuse on a long-running stoush over the site, with community campaigners desperate to see the town plan adhered to on the site.

In 2015 Sekisui House failed in a bid to have the planning scheme amended in order to accommodate a future development application, as Coast councillors voted against the changes.

Sekisui House's Yaroomba Beach project director Evan Aldridge said they had received more than 3000 submissions of support for the project, which he said made it the most supported application ever recorded on the Coast and throughout Queensland.

The project has garnered support from 20 business and tourism organisations throughout the region, as well as Federal and State bodies.

Council staff have been set the mammoth task of going through each submission to determine if it's valid or not, so it's unclear exactly when the proposal will come before a council meeting for debate and decision, but it's understood to be likely in mid-2017.

As D-Day draws nearer we take a look at the state of play ahead of a decision that will define the Coast's future whichever way councillors vote.

Taking a stand:

DIVISION 8 councillor Jason O'Pray has been involved in the maelstrom for years, as large-scale public protests captured the media's attention back in late-2014.

While council officers are yet to finalise reports ahead of the next crucial meeting, Cr O'Pray has laid his views out on the table on the proposal.

"I've been crystal clear on my position for a very long time now in regard to this proposal," he said.

"Make no mistake, the community have been incredibly vocal and pro active in their messaging to council, that they want the DA to be within the town plan and I agree.

 

Cr Jason O'Pray.
Cr Jason O'Pray. Patrick Woods

"Height and density have always been my issue in this location. This has been my position for years now and it's still very much my position today."

He described the level of community interest in the project as "quite extraordinary".

"There has never ever been so many submissions made to council for a single development application," Cr O'Pray said.

"These are record numbers and the submissions have come from every corner of the Sunshine Coast, not just the North Shore.

"The community have clearly made their position heard."

The tourism and major events portfolio holder said "everyone agrees" the region desperately needed a new, high-end resort, but he questioned at what cost it should come.

He claimed it was "no wonder the good people of the entire Sunshine Coast" were speaking up in record numbers.

"The Tourist facility in this DA is a relatively small part of the overall DA, yet has been the focal point all the way along. All the energy and attention has been toward the resort," he said.

"There is over 1000 residential dwellings in this DA. That's an enormous residential development in anyone's book.

"The suburb of Yaroomba currently has around 780 residential dwellings and a population of around 1600. Do the math, it will double it and a bit... imagine if it was in your suburb."

Servicing the need:

YAROOMBA Beach project manager Evan Aldridge was the man tasked with trying to secure the planning scheme amendment in 2015 and is working to secure the approvals for the current proposal.

He said the region's leading tourism and business bodies "which collectively represent hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of employees across the Coast" had recognised what he described as extensive community engagement undertaken.

Mr Aldridge outlined the public benefits touted by the project, which he said would support the Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion.

He said the new coastal village of "diverse housing product" would deliver the first five-star resort on the Coast in 30 years and generate 90,000 new visitors to the region through a focus on conferences and events.

 

Evan Aldridge represents the company which plan to build The Westin Coolum Spa and Resort at Yaroomba Beach.
Evan Aldridge represents the company which plan to build The Westin Coolum Spa and Resort at Yaroomba Beach. Warren Lynam

He spruiked a training partnership with Tafe, the 360 ongoing jobs and a $120 million annual economic benefit as being aligned with the council's key strategies.

Mr Aldridge said it would offer a diversity of housing and the "only alternative option" for the Yaroomba Beach site was to enact a 10-year-old approval for a gated, four-storey housing estate with apartments.

He described that as a "poor outcome for the last beachfront tourism focus area on the Coast to be developed" considering its proximity to the expanding airport.

"This would provide no five-star resort, no ongoing economic benefit, minimal employment and no sustainability or ecotourism outcomes," Mr Aldridge said.

"The Coast does not have any five-star resorts and if we want to stop 60 per cent of the tourists who fly into the airport travelling north to Noosa, the Sunshine Coast needs to build one."

Mr Aldridge said low-scale, spread-out five-star resorts weren't viable for the region due to high costs of labour and maintenance to sustain facilities and provide services.

"In fact, Richard Stedman, the ex-GM Hyatt Coolum who brought the PGA to the Sunshine Coast, has stated the resort was not viable even in its heyday," Mr Aldridge said.

He said that was why the seven-storey design was necessary, in order to provide the service level expected and facilities needed to attract conferences and events.

Community angst:

A SWAG of community groups from around the region have banded together with local residents to continue the fight against a development they consider to be grossly outside the town plan.

It's not been without its flashpoints, as claims of skulduggery have been made by both sides, while Mr Aldridge previously slammed what he described as "false claims and stunts" from "activist groups" which he said had misrepresented the project and misled the community.

Earlier this month Save Yaroomba spokeswoman Julie Failor declared they had barristers ready to go should the project be approved, while another public protest in early January drew a crowd of about a thousand people.

Sunshine Coast Environment Council and a number of other organisations, including OSCAR, Development Watch and Coolum and Northshore Coast Care presented to councillors this week, as did Sekisui House representatives.

 

Development Watch spokesperson Julie Failor addresses the large crowd concerned about changing the town plan to suit developer Sekisui House during early protests in 2014. Photo Mike Garry / Coolum & North Shore News
Development Watch spokesperson Julie Failor addresses the large crowd concerned about changing the town plan to suit developer Sekisui House during early protests in 2014. Photo Mike Garry / Coolum & North Shore News Mike Garry

Sunshine Coast Environment Council spokeswoman Narelle McCarthy said it was a "welcomed and warranted" opportunity to present their views.

She said the conflicts with the planning scheme were outlined, along with a number of other issues including environmental concerns and traffic impacts.

The scale and density of the residential component ranks high on the list of issues raised.

Ms McCarthy said Sekisui House had not demonstrated a need for the five-star hotel and pointed to its failure to reference the "game changer" new Maroochydore CBD - earmarked for a five-star hotel development - as a glaring omission.

"We don't disagree with the need for a five-star hotel," she said.

 

Community members try to gain admission to Sekisui forum outside Sekisui House back in May, 2016. Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily
Community members try to gain admission to Sekisui forum outside Sekisui House back in May, 2016. Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily John McCutcheon

She said they were pressing the council to employ independent consultants to assess the proposal and submissions as there were a "whole range of things that need to be drilled down", prior to a report being given to council and a decision made.

"It definitely is warranted," Ms McCarthy said.

She said the amount of submissions made proved how important the site was.

"That certainly just demonstrates the level of concern and interest in this proposal," Ms McCarthy said.

"The proposal, in its current form, we feel confident it won't be approved."

The decision makers:

IT WILL be a packed council chamber that greets Mayor Mark Jamieson and the region's 10 councillors when they sit to decide the future of the development application.

As it stands, Division 8 Councillor Jason O'Pray has made clear he will support the community's wishes.

So where do his colleagues stand?

A number of them are yet to make up their minds in the absence of the finalised council officers' report.

In that boat sit Cr Steve Robinson (Division 9), Cr Christian Dickson (Division 6), Cr Ted Hungerford (Division 7), Cr Peter Cox (Division 3) and Deputy Mayor Tim Dwyer (Division 2).

Councillors Jenny McKay (Division 5) and Rick Baberowski (Division 1) didn't respond to the Daily's email asking for their position on the proposal.

 

NEW ERA: The newest installment of the Sunshine Coast Council, elected on March 19, 2016, gathered at the Caloundra chamber.
NEW ERA: The newest installment of the Sunshine Coast Council, elected on March 19, 2016, gathered at the Caloundra chamber. Sunshine Coast Council

Cr Greg Rogerson (Division 10) said he was duty bound not to forecast his vote until seeing the final planning report and listening to the debate.

"However at this stage, I will honestly inform you that I see considerable merit in the establishment of a luxury hotel on the Sekisui site, generally in accordance with the plan, size and height submitted by the applicant," he said.

"But I have severe issues with the scale and density of accompanying residential homes and apartments currently planned for the site."

Mayor Mark Jamieson was also not prepared to show his cards and said he would be waiting until the assessment is complete and the officer recommendations had been brought forward for consideration at a council meeting.

He warned of forecasting a position on the proposal.

"Council is required to consider all relevant information and make its decision objectively and impartially - a situation which is potentially compromised if a councillor takes a position on a development application before it has been assessed and before he or she has received all information and recommendations relevant to the application," Cr Jamieson said.

Where to now:

A SUNSHINE Coast Council spokeswoman was unwilling to speculate on when the proposal could come before a meeting, or how long the assessment may take.

The application will be considered as a public report once assessment and recommendations are finalised.

Mr Aldridge said they were forecasting construction of stage one to begin in 2019 if an approval can be secured by mid-2018.

 

VIEW: An artist's impression of Sekisui House's proposal looking towards Mount Coolum.
VIEW: An artist's impression of Sekisui House's proposal looking towards Mount Coolum. Sekisui House

He said the Westin Coolum Resort and Spa, serviced apartments and key public amenities including public park, beach access and surf life saving patrols could be completed by 2021 if the approval was achieved.

The council spokeswoman wouldn't speculate on what may happen in the event of an appeal being lodged by either Sekisui House or the opponents once the decision is eventually made.

Ms McCarthy said they were "poised to take necessary actions" and suggested legal action would be started quickly if an approval was given at-odds with the planning scheme provisions.



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