Councillors have backed down from outright rejection of proposals to develop the shore at Portgordon in favour of a public hearing.
Members of the planning committee were faced with a near 50/50 split on local opinion over the creation of a new boatyard in the village while officials were recommended rejection of the proposals as they went against the Local Plan.
Landowner Gemma Campbell has brought controversy to the community in her attempts to create new businesses and homes in Portgordon, her initial plans last year having been withdrawn in the face of fierce local opposition.
However, a second pressure group was formed in support of new plans with residents holding banners in favour of the boatyard as committee members attended a site visit on Monday.
The issue went before the committee on Tuesday with chairman and local councillor, Douglas Ross, admitting that they were faced with a split of opinion within the community. He said: “I don’t think this could have split the community more evenly – it is 50/50.”
SNP Councillor Margo Howe admitted that she was “of a mind” to support the application, but after detailed discussion the committee elected to refer the matter to a public hearing.
A pubic hearing was already scheduled for another part of the development, a cafe to be created alongside the village’s icehouse, on March 21 and it now hoped that the arguments over the boatyard application can be heard at the same time.
One of the leaders of the group arguing in favour of the development, Maureen Burrows, said: “It is quite hopeful because it might give them more time to think about it and hopefully make the right decision – it is better than a no.”