A southeast Sydney community is fighting to save their peninsula bay from a plan by billionaire Harry Triguboff to build nearly 2000 apartments in a massive Meriton high-rise project.

And after the state government rejected the billionaire’s latest proposal, a grassroots action group is hoping Mr Triguboff gets the hint and gives up what’s been dubbed a “nonsense” plan.

Mr Triguboff, who founded the Meriton Group, wants to build 1909 apartments on a 12.3 hectare site at Little Bay, about 17km south of the Sydney CBD, which he purchased for almost $250 million in 2018.

The site, called Little Bay Cove, came with an approved masterplan for 450 dwellings up to five storeys high – half of which were already built by the previous developer TA Global Berhad before Meriton bought the remaining land.

In 2019 Meriton submitted a rezoning application to Randwick City Council, proposing to build more than 1900 apartments in buildings up to 22 storeys tall. When council rejected that idea, Meriton countered with another proposal to reduce the buildings to 17 storeys over a larger 13.5 hectare area.

Randwick’s Mayor at the time Danny Said criticised the “seriously flawed proposal”, describing it as a “massive overdevelopment of a very sensitive site”.

“How anybody could think building 1909 units in towers up to 22 storeys on a site zoned for just 450 units in buildings up to five storeys high is beyond me,” Mr said.

Meriton then sought a review through the state’s Sydney Eastern City Planning Panel in 2021, which also rejected the plan for being “too big, too bulky, and out of character with the surrounding area”.

Mr Triguboff tried a third time in February this year, attempting to be included in the Perrottet government’s controversial Rezoning Pathways pilot program in a bid to fast-track the development. But that also failed.

And local opponents of the project hope it is the last they see of the massive development project.

Community action group Save Little Bay, which has rallied thousands of locals and gathered more than 12,600 signatures on an online petition, hopes this is the end of the “high-rise zombie”.

Group spokesman Olde Lorenzen told news.com.au the many rejections Mr Triguboff has shows how “entirely inappropriate” the development is for the Little Bay peninsula.

“Plonking a mixed-use high-rise development that is entirely out of character and contextually inappropriate into the end of Sydney’s south east peninsula … is simply a nonsense and entirely selfish idea,” Mr Lorenzen said.

“Meriton’s plans have been rejected three times because they constitute terrible urban planning in disregard of the will of the people, local and state planning authority, local character and all planning instruments.”

He said high-rise developments need to be in locations with the infrastructure to support it, which Little Bay does not have.

But Mr Triguboff has previously argued that his development will bring that infrastructure to the area.

In an interview with The Australian, he said that if Meriton could build there “the prices will rise, the transport will come, schools, childminding and supermarkets will appear”.

But locals say they would rather Meriton build the remaining 224 medium-density homes that have already been approved for the site than keep pushing for its plan.

Randwick Mayor Dylan Parker said: “After three failed attempts, Meriton should get on with the job and build to the sensible masterplan that applied when they bought in and can be completed right now.”

“Sydney desperately needs new housing now and Meriton dragging out the process any further with new proposals will likely only lead to additional delay and community angst.”

Mr Lorenzen echoed the mayor’s plea, insisting the 2900 members of Save Little Bay were not against development, but supported the “sensible and appropriate” original master plan rather than Meriton “landbanking” Little Bay Cove until its plans are approved.

Meriton’s development, Mr Lorenzen warned, will hurt locals who have already bought into the half-completed masterplan “in good faith, and making lifetime investments”.

“The masterplan reflects sensible urban planning that is responsive to local character and demand for the ‘missing middle’, medium-density housing.”

But Mr Triguboff has told reporters he has little concerns for what the community thinks about the proposal. He is confident that though he as lost three battles, he will win the war over Little Bay.

In an interview with The Australian, after his third rejection, Mr Triguboff said he did not agree with the “rules” stopping his development.

“A few people living in Little Bay are trying to stop me from building. All they have there are four golf courses, a neglected beach, housing commission and a prison falling apart,” he said.

I represent thousands of people who want to lease and live there, but my future people have no voice. Only a couple of hundred people are all screaming. And frightening the politicians.”

When asked about the comments, Mr Lorenzen said the billionaire had said “much worse, condescending things about our community, including those who live in public housing around our area”.

Mr Triguboff has made some blunt assessments about the Little Bay resident in two interviews with the Sydney Morning Herald.

After his latest rejection, he said he was unfazed by locals’ concerns – if he did care he “wouldn’t have gotten my first block of flats up”.

“There are very few locals there [in Little Bay]; the people who live there are housing commission and prisoners. There are very few others,” he said, the paper reports.

Months earlier, though, in another interview with the Herald, Mr Triguboff said those who would not approve of his development, seemingly including the government, “can go to hell”.

But Mr Lorenzen wanted to remind the development titan that “humility goes a long way”, but “insulting locals or yelling” at the people you need on-side “usually doesn’t”.

He also had some advice for the billionaire about the Little Bay development:

“Harry Triguboff has undoubtedly had admirable business success; but it is time for him to concede that his big Little Bay gamble was a $245 million high-risk investment gone wrong.

“Cut your losses, Harry, and walk away.”

News.com.au has approached Meriton for comment about the Little Bay development, they did not respond.

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