Hotel approval hiccup

By Chris Thomson | posted on December 20, 2018

ALBANY business identity Paul Lionetti is now in a race against time after a meeting primed to approve his $17.2 million harbourside hotel project was cancelled in unusual circumstances this week.

On Tuesday, urban planner Neil Smithson arrived at 140 William Street in Perth where a State-convened panel was set to consider the five-floor development set for Albany’s marina precinct.

“The Southern Joint Development Panel forum that was scheduled for this morning has been cancelled until early January,” Mr Smithson, a one-time Albany mayoral candidate, told The Weekender.

“Basically, the meeting was never convened, there was no presiding member.”

On Wednesday, panel chair Gene Koltasz confirmed he was absent due to a “pretty bad chest infection” and the committee’s acting deputy chair worked for a company associated with the project, and so a quorum could not be achieved.

“There was a double whammy at the last minute,” he told The Weekender.

Mr Koltasz said the panel would reconvene on January 7.

Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington, understood to be a supporter of the project, will not be there as he will be overseas until January 21.

As revealed here last week, Albany council planners had recommended the panel approve the hotel, which was set to become the city’s first international inn since The Esplanade was demolished at Middleton Beach in 2007.

Mr Wellington, who defeated Mr Smithson in a two-horse mayoral race in 2015, said he “found it disappointing that they couldn’t find” a replacement chairperson.

He and Albany councillor Paul Terry were to have been the City’s representatives at the meeting.

Mr Smithson said the delay would be “critical” to timing of the $17.2 million hotel planned for Toll Place across from Mr Lionetti’s Due South tavern.

He said Mr Lionetti bought the waterfront block from Landcorp in May 2016 on the condition he commenced development within three years and finished the project within five.

“So, basically, in order to commence development [Mr Lionetti] must have a valid building licence,” he explained.

“A normal building licence is one thing, but a 108-room hotel – that’s a public building – and that’s the top of the equation as far as building licences are concerned.

“Every day he loses now would make it much, much harder [to meet the three-year deadline].”

Mr Smithson said he would expect the licence to take “in the best order” of three months to come through once planning approval is granted.

“The reason I say that is because the … panel has a bunch of things to consider when it approves this application, not least of which is [a proposed] reduction in car parking,” he said.

“So, they might agree with the developer, they might disagree with the developer, they might come back with a completely new thing relative to any or all of the conditions of the [recommended] planning consent.

“And, of course, the applicant then has the right to appeal or redesign the application relative to that.”

Mr Smithson said the delay in planning approval brought the condition of sale into consideration.

“What’s happening here is the applicant’s running out of time every single day,” he said.

“The … panel will definitely convene in January and then [Mr Lionetti] has literally got four months to get from planning consent … to building licence … and that’s a very, very tight timeline.”

From there, Mr Smithson said erecting a security fence would probably meet the condition of sale.

Mr Wellington said the three-year deadline should not be a problem.

“Yeah, I think we can get that pushed out,” he said.

“It will fit within the timeframe.

“He wants to start [in] February/March.”

Mr Wellington said the building licence should “not take that long” because the report to the panel was prepared by City of Albany staff.

“So, they’ve effectively, by recommending it, done all the work required to issue a licence if [the panel] approves it,” he said.

“Once they give approval, it [comes] back here.”

Asked if he was disappointed approval had been delayed, or concerned it may jeopardise the project, Mr Lionetti refused to comment.