Wollongong's Labor and Liberal councillors have voted to "slam the brakes on" the city's most significant planning reforms since 2007 by a year or more, voicing concerns about banning new residential buildings in parts of the CBD.
In a rare departure from the council administration line, Labor veteran David Brown argued councillors should not yet vote to move forward with a massive overhaul of the city centre planning rules.
Instead, he said the council should delay progressing changes to its development rules until it had more information on access and movement, the city-wide retail environment and affordable housing.
Studies on these topics are in the works, but council staff indicated this could push back any CBD planning changes - already projected to take months to move through the NSW Planning system - by another year.
This means they will not progress until after the next council elections.
The changes, which were based on years of studies including one adopted by the council in 2016, would have included changes to building heights, a ban on new residential development in a new "commercial spine" along Burelli Street, and incentives to attract more commercial developers.
Council staff said they were designed to move away from current policies which have created escarpment-blocking skyscrapers in the wrong places and rows of empty shop fronts.
Cr Brown said he supported a number of the proposed zoning changes and voiced "in-principle support" for the strategies in the documents presented to council, but was not convinced of the need to shut out residential development in parts of the city.
"I think there is a real danger of making those changes when we have such uncertainty and conflicting evidence of the core proposition that residential is somehow choking off commercial development," he said.
"As part of our economic development strategy we say we need to promote the CBD as a place for investment in commercial office space - if resi (sic) is somehow the land use lantana under existing instruments, why are we having such success in attracting non-residential?
"The success is compounding over the last year or two, even in the face of COVID we are seeing applications and activity and the cranes index is still high."
He said the council's own promotional documents highlighted $1.6 billion in investment in the city in recent years, and a 36 per cent uplift in A-Grade office space, with another $400 million worth of office buildings in the pipeline.
"Clearly we are doing something very right," he said.
He gained support from Liberal councillor John Dorahy, who agreed "Wollongong is in a good place" and said the council should not "limit our growth factors".
Only the Greens and Independent councillors - including the Lord Mayor - voted against Cr Brown's bid to delay the changes.
Mithra Cox said she was surprised by Cr Brown's "radical departure" from previously adopted policies.
"This has been a really long process ... and my sense was that everybody was reasonably comfortable with the direction we were going," she said.
"This could have the effect of indefinitely delaying these changes. This is slamming the brakes on."
She highlighted problems with the CBD like "too much empty and unoccupied shop space in the CBD", which would have been addressed by the proposed reforms.
"One of the key changes in this is allowing residential to go right to the ground floor in some areas, without needing dead city retail space at the bottom of that," she said.
"Very few people are going to say we need to expand the amount of retail in the Wollongong CBD, and that's what our planning controls force to happen."
She agreed the council needed to do extra studies, but did not want to stop the planning process while they were under way.
Independent Dom Figliomeni said he believed it was time for the council to progress the proposal so residents of the city could have a say about the changes.