The Town Planning Board has asked a developer to improve the design of a residential project on a prime waterfront site.
Critics said the 10 towers look like a "fat wall" that would block wind flow, while planning officials described it as "distinct and interesting".
Board members are concerned that the Sun Hung Kai Properties project on the site of the former North Point estate features towers that are too close together, some just 5.2 metres apart.
It differs widely from a 2009 brief by the Planning Department that called for four, taller towers with wider spaces between them.
Several residents' groups and political parties presented a petition yesterday morning before the board met.
Board spokesman Edward Lo Wai-ming said members decided to defer making a decision on the project.
"Members considered there was room for improving the visual permeability and widening the two 5.2 metre gaps between buildings, and they asked the Planning Department to work out a solution with the developer," he said.
Sun Hung Kai submitted the project to the board in February after buying the 29,280 sq m site for HK$6.91 billion last year. It plans to build 10 blocks of eight to 18 storeys, yielding 710 flats. It is also required to provide 6,800 sq m of public open space.
During the meeting, senior town planner Irene Lai Wai-shan told the board the scheme complied with the government's building design guidelines.
"The project will have a special outlook in the area. The differing [building] heights carry a sense of superiority," Lai said. She cited the department's view that the "curvilinear arrangement" created a "distinct and interesting" form, and that the developer's proposal was better than the department's original concept as it created a large unified public open space.
The developer had conducted an air-flow assessment and found its design satisfactory.
Board member Laurence Li Lu-jen asked why the developer - just a day before the meeting - had explained why it built 10 towers instead of four.
Lai replied the department was not aware of public concerns about the site layout until media reports last week and it then asked the developer to elaborate. The 2009 scheme was only "indicative", she said.
In a letter, the developer said it needed 10 towers because non-opening windows had to be used for the facade facing the noisy Island Eastern Corridor.
This meant it had to build only two flats on each floor in four of the buildings, so bedrooms and living rooms could have the opening windows to the south. To meet the minimum requirement for 700 flats, it had to build more blocks.
Sun Hung Kai Properties said last night that it respected the board's decision, adding there might have been a "misunderstanding" among green groups and residents. "It is a balanced option and has gone beyond government requirements in facilitating air ventilation and noise reduction," a spokeswoman said.