A Tauranga City Council committee has agreed to move forward with a plan to lease the University of Waikato land at Sulphur Point, despite strong objections from neighbours.
The university sought a long-term lease on a park next to the Tauranga Sport Fishing Club - its preferred site for a 5000sq m multimillion dollar purpose-built coastal and marine environment research facility.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council supported the bid for the big economic boost it was expected to bring and the educational opportunities it would offer Bay youth.
The fishing club, along with the Tauranga Marina Society and Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club, supported the facility but strongly opposed the location choice/a>.
They said the public open space was valued by the community and much needed for storage, events and trailer boat parking, and that the council's consultation process had been biased in favour of the university and lacking vital details.
After more than two hours of submissions and debate, the economic development committee vote was evenly split between supporting the lease agreement and waiting for more information or exploring other location options.
Chairman Max Mason used his casting vote to swing the decision in favour of moving forward with the plan.
"Let's start the ball rolling."
He said the decision could easily go the other way when the recommendation came before the full council for ratification on July 19, and said all parties needed to talk before then and come up with solutions.
The group of non-profit neighbours said the decision was disappointing, though it was not a final call.
It was good that councillors had a better understanding of the issues with the plan, and that the university might be more motivated to talk to them.
In the meeting Tauranga Marina Society manager Greg Prescott said a proposal was being developed for a 250-berth extension of the marina, growing it south into nearby council reserve, Marine Park.
He suggested the university's research facility could go at the southern end of the extension, an option some councillors wanted explored.
University senior deputy vice-chancellor Alister Jones said he was happy with the committee's decision, and that it gave the university a degree of certainty to continue making plans.
He said the university was willing to work with the neighbours, and had already made changes in response to feedback, including removing undergraduate student laboratories from the plan.
"We want to work with the community to get better outcomes."
He said there were time pressures at play, including an uncertain lease on the site of the current Coastal Marine Field Station in Cross Rd - an unfit for purpose facility - and a possible competing facility in Dunedin.
How they voted
Agree in principal to recommend supporting leasing the Sulphur Point site to the University of Waikato.
For: Max Mason, Kelvin Clout, Steve Morris, Leanne Brown
Against: John Robson, Mayor Greg Brownless, Larry Baldock, Rick Curach.