Michael Bailey Deputy editor

Michael has been a business journalist for 12 years. He has extensive experience editing magazines covering funds management, commercial property and the travel industry. In 2011 he won a Citi Excellence in Financial Journalism award for a BRW cover story on economic indicators.

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‘40 against one’: Rich Lister Robert Magid slams Manly Council approval process after bittersweet victory

Published 29 July 2013 11:48, Updated 30 July 2013 07:10

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‘40 against one’: Rich Lister Robert Magid slams Manly Council approval process after bittersweet victory

TMG Developments owner Robert Magid: three years to get two restaurants approved.

Property developer Robert Magid says Manly Council “failed” him and its ratepayers after his proposal to put a second storey on Manly Wharf took three years to finally have a reduced version approved last week by the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales.

Magid’s TMG Developments lodged the application for an additional level of four restaurants as a second phase in its overhaul of the ferry wharf, which attracts six million visits a year. TMG bought the site in 1995 when it was dominated by the Tilt games parlour, a McDonald’s and a Rebel Sport store.

A 2002 refurbishment saw the wharf become a premium restaurant precinct, with lessees including Bavarian Bier Cafe, the Phoenix yum cha restaurant and then a branch of Dave Evans’s Hugos bar concept, which was lured with generous incentives at the height of the global financial crisis.

Magid, valued at $360 million on 2013’s BRW Rich 200, toyed with applying for a convention centre on an additional level, but decided the traffic impacts would be too great, given visitors tend to arrive and leave such sites at the same time.

The proposal for four restaurants still faced objection on traffic grounds, as well as a long list of others – from antisocial behaviour (a resident claimed diners would flick their cigarette butts into the water), to reduced views for residents and businesses on the other side of the esplanade, to the fate of penguins resident beneath the wharf.

Nevertheless, council officers recommended approval, however Magid recalls council then sought to “depoliticise” the approval process by having it considered by an independent panel.

Independent panel setback

Attending the panel’s community meeting on the proposal, Magid says he was “congratulated on my way in” by the Manly Mayor Jean Hay, only to then be faced with “40 objectors who’d been given three minutes each to state their case”.

Magid says he was only granted three minutes to respond.

“If I’d known I would have brought along a group of supporters from the community. I thought it was going to be a straightforward process. It ended up as 40 against one.”

The independent panel rejected Magid’s proposal last April – going against the recommendation of officers from the democratically elected council, Magid points out – so he took a modified version to the Land and Environment Court, the first time the veteran developer has ever done so.

The version approved last week faced further Court-ordered cuts to preserve neighbouring views, to the extent that Magid says only two restaurants can now fit comfortably on the additional level, and there will be significant extra expenses in relocating toilets and lifts from where they were in the original plan.

“The imposition of this independent panel cost Many Council a lot of money, it cost me a lot of money and it’s left me with a less commercially attractive project,” Magid says.

Comment was being sought from Manly Council on whether independent assessment panels remain a part of its development application process.

Nevertheless Magid says he’s pleased his investment can proceed. He’s confident he’ll be “inundated with offers” from restaurateurs to lease the two upper-level vacancies which, in Magid’s words, offer “iconic views” over Manly Cove.

Separately, Magid says another big name has just been attracted to his wharf, with Justin Hemmes’s Merivale group making its first foray north of the Harbour Bridge with an Argentine/Cuban restaurant that will replace the Phoenix yum cha eatery.

The new restaurant’s executive chef will be Dan Hong, who oversees food at Merivale’s Mr Wong and El Loco restaurants.

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