Housing is scarce, but is a high-rise the answer? This beach community says no

Within days of learning about a sleepy beachside town in central Queensland, Sydneysiders Rahela Beevers and her husband had packed up and called the removalists. 

Key points:

  • A multi-million-dollar, seven-storey development has been proposed for the small coastal town of Emu Park
  • Nearly 200 people made submissions to the local council, with only a handful in favour
  • Opponents say the development would ruin the town's relaxed village lifestyle

Almost 10 years on, Ms Beevers is still in love with the "lovely laid-back village atmosphere" of Emu Park, near Yeppoon on the Capricorn Coast.

It's this relaxed lifestyle Ms Beevers believes is at risk from a proposed high-rise development in the town centre.

She was one of nearly 200 locals who made public submissions to Livingstone Shire Council opposing the multi-million-dollar proposal.

Only a handful of submissions were in favour of the development, which could see up to 49 apartments built over seven storeys and commercial space on the ground floor.

"Four storeys would be sufficient," Ms Beevers said.

"Anything more than that, you're really going to impact the people who are living behind the building and will just absolutely tower over the trees."

The developer says ground-floor retail spaces could be a meeting point for locals. (Supplied: Cottee Parker Architects)

While neighbouring Yeppoon has seen multiple developments of this type in the past few years, it would be the first of its kind in Emu Park.

The debate hints at a bigger issue facing many parts of Queensland: a lack of housing in fast-growing regions where rental availability is almost non-existent.

Livingstone Shire Council Mayor Andy Ireland said more accommodation was desperately needed.

"Our current rental [availability] rate, as I believe from the local agents, is around 0.2 per cent," he said.

Height is key issue

Developer Rob Carr said the apartments aimed to help meet Livingstone Shire Council's Towards 2050 Strategy, which suggested more than 1,500 new homes were needed over the next five years to meet demand.

For opponents like Ms Beevers, it's the height, not the complex itself, which is the key issue.

They've pointed to the planning restrictions for Emu Park, developed after extensive community consultation in 2018, that specify a maximum development height of four storeys above ground in that location.

Across the road, further up the hill, that height is restricted to three storeys.

Residents who oppose the plans say the height exceeds local planning regulations. (Supplied: Cottee Parker Architects)

Ms Beevers said seven storeys was "excessive" and would drastically impact on community parkland opposite.

Other issues raised in submissions included the building design and potential parking problems during peak tourism periods.

Low-maintenance lifestyle

Lachlan Tree was one of a handful of people who made a submission in favour of the development.

As soon as Mr Tree and wife Lorraine saw the plans, they started dreaming of a new life down at the beach as retirees.

A handful of submissions supported the high-rise, saying it would help boost housing, especially for retirees. (Supplied: Cottee Parker Architects)

The couple live in Rockhampton, a short drive inland from Emu Park, in a four-bedroom house that feels far too big now all their children have left home.

Far from ruining the village atmosphere, Mr Tree said the development would be "beneficial for the town".

"I think that relaxed lifestyle will stay," he said.

"It's not a huge development … you can't compare to the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast or Byron or anything like that because it's a totally different lifestyle.

"I believe even with another, say, 200 people there, it's not going to change the lifestyle."

Housing needed

Emu Park is in the Livingstone Shire, a region where median house prices jumped by 13.1 per cent to $450,000 in the year to September 30.

House price increases across regional Queensland are being driven by unprecedented demand from southern states.

Coastal communities like Emu Park near Rockhampton are growing in popularity.(Supplied: Glenn Adamus)

Mr Carr said he expected "community opinion" about the project, but that the design acknowledged the "coastal village charm".

"We envisage that [the development] will provide a meeting point for locals and visitors to gather, as well as an additional location for businesses to be established along with the expected growth of the area," he said.

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Mr Ireland said planners would develop reports to be presented in February or March.

Andy Ireland says the region is experiencing housing problems as the population grows.(ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

These reports will look at whether the proposal should be approved, despite exceeding the height restriction.

"If it's the officer's recommendation that [the development] be approved outside of the requirements, I think there'll be some fairly direct questions from councillors around that," he said.

Mr Ireland said the housing issues were being exacerbated by a series of infrastructure projects bringing contractors and their families into the region.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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