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Waterfront war: Legal bid to stop $2.1bn project getting off the ground

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Behind the sedate Eagle Street Pier on the Brisbane River lies a court battle of titanic proportions.

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The Dexus group plans to demolish the 30-year-old pier buildings and construct two towers of 49 storeys and 43 storeys. Work on the massive mixed-use development, known as Waterfront Brisbane, is due to begin next year, with the first tower due to be standing by 2026.

While the Palaszczuk Government has embraced the project, describing it as a form of economic stimulus, it has its detractors. The most outspoken critics own property next door, in the Harry Seidler-designed Riparian Plaza building, and include high-flying businesswoman Sarina Russo.

The Waterfront Brisbane development application was approved in December and announced by Dexus and the Brisbane City Council in a joint media release (the council will fund a new Riverwalk to be delivered by Dexus as part of the project).

But lawyers for Riverside Development Pty Ltd, which owns Riparian Plaza, have now taken action in the Planning and Environment Court in a bid to have the approvals torn up. If successful, the move would send Dexus back to the drawing board and at the very least delay the project.

Concerned the approvals were rushed, the lawyers for Riparian Plaza will argue that a supposedly “minor change” to the development application in October was anything but minor: it increased the gross floor area from 145,190m2 to 150,825m2; raised the height of tenant spaces near the Riverwalk from 14 metres to 20 metres; provided a 30 per cent increase in site cover in low scale tenanted spaces; and increased the amount of work occurring alongside the Brisbane River, including two new dining and bar spaces on the other side of the Riverwalk.

The lawyers for Riparian Plaza will argue that council was wrong to consider the project as a code assessable development and not an impact assessable development that would have required closer scrutiny and more community consultation.

In any event, according to the lawyers for Riparian Plaza, the council should have found the proposed development failed to comply with the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan Code, the Flood Overlay Code, the Waterway Corridor Overlay Code, the Coastal Hazard Overlay Code, the Transport, Access, Parking and Servicing Code, and the Bicycle Network Overlay Code.

“The (council) erred in law by failing to find not only that the proposed development did not comply with the above provisions of the planning scheme, but that it could not be conditioned to comply,” the lawyers state in court documents.

The lawyers have also highlighted how the development, as approved, would impede access to Riparian Plaza and require the removal of columns, changes to traffic islands, access lanes and stormwater infrastructure. Its owner, Riverside Development Pty Ltd, never provided consent.

The case is due to commence next month.

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