The developer of a gay male sauna in the CBD has alleged that the City of Sydney Council has been deliberately obstructive in his attempts to gain development approval for the site.

David Austin told Sydney Star Observer last week that he would be taking Sydney City Council to the Land and Environment Court after learning that his sauna proposal was rejected on planning grounds. Austin claims that he had been assured by City of Sydney town planners that the sauna proposal complied with all relevant planning requirements.

We’ve been dealing with this council since September, telling us there were no planning issues, Austin said. We could have had this in the LEC [Land and Environment Court] by now. They’ve stalled us for another three months. It’s ludicrous; a waste of our time.

The sauna was planned for the basement of 300 Pitt Street, next door to the Edinburgh Castle Hotel, and according to Austin, would have been something very up-market, like a Turkish spa, a respite from the city. The delay has cost him and his business partners $30,000, he estimated.

Austin said he approached the City with the proposal in September and was told then that the Development Application [DA] for the sauna would go to Council’s Planning Committee meeting in February with a recommendation for approval from the town planners. However a few days before the February meeting he was informed that the sauna DA was to be handled under delegation -“ that is, by council officers, not by the Committee -“ and a few days after the meeting he was told the DA had been refused.

A letter sent by Austin to the Office of the Lord Mayor on the issue was completely ignored, he also claimed. The letter sought to provide councillors with more information about the sauna proposal after some 70 letters of objection to the development were sent by residents.

Should this application be approved it will change the nature of our street and area around our building. It will open the door for other sex-on-premises venues such as brothels, bookshops or even another gay venue in our street, one correspondent wrote. Imagine gay men loitering outside with one purpose only.

The refusal of the DA for the Pitt Street sauna was hard to understand, Austin said, because it was in the same zone as the 357 Sydney City Steam sauna, which opened early this year in Sussex Street.

We’ve been trying to do this up-front and with a good safe sex message, and we’ve been given this run-around, he said.

A spokesperson for the Lord Mayor said the sauna DA was rejected not because of what it was per se, but because of its location.

(That part of Pitt Street) is becoming a residential precinct. It is not just a commercial zone, although it is still mixed, the spokesperson said.

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