District plan or district scam?

District plan? What district plan? Mary Anne Gill asks what faith residents in Waipā can have in it when the body that drew it up won’t back it.

“Council staff were attempting to change the District Plan by stealth.” – Bill James.

What is the point of a district plan if the guardians of that plan in Waipā argue against it?

I felt for three people while watching a three-hour long Waipā District Council regulatory committee meeting on Friday.

They were the only three not being paid to attend the meeting.

They were there to argue that the council should stand by its own plan and ignore staff advice to ignore it.

It appears they failed.

And it is clear, given there are further applications which are contrary to the plan, that they are not alone.

Taylor St house due to be bowled for town houses

The three, Bill James, Adrienne and Murray Olsen live in Taylor Street, Cambridge.

Last year they learned the property between them had sold for $800,000 and the new owners, Warren and Wendy Hodges of Hamilton, proposed to remove the 1950s house and construct in its place two buildings with five dwellings on a 1012 sq. m section.

Construction of the three three-bedroom and two two-bedroom town houses is a non-complying activity under the 2017 Waipā District Plan.

The Hodges therefore applied to the council for an exemption, which anyone is entitled to do.

They sought consent to subdivide one lot into five with shared access lots and permission to build five terraced houses.

Council staff supported the application and reported any adverse effects would be minor. Staff also decided that under the Resource Management Act, the only people who should be told were four adjoining property owners.

Two of them, the Olsens and Bill James, lodged objections. For that reason – and that reason only – the case went to a hearing.

An artist’s impression of the Taylor St site

Their submissions were impressive and neither smacked of a “Not in my Backyard” (Nimby) mentality.

As Murray Olsen said at the hearing: “We are having to make a submission on something that does not comply. The proposal in its arrogance makes it look normal”.

Bill James said council staff were attempting to change the District Plan by stealth instead of considering the wellbeing of residents in the area.

“It does not enhance the local area. I do not understand why the council officers are supporting this.”

He said the town houses could sell at between $850,000 and $1 million each.

Adrienne Olsen said they felt unduly pressured and hassled to accept the proposal before the application was made.

“We are asking for the consenting authority to reject the proposal outright as it stands.”

Murray Olsen said Waipā would be breaking its own rules.

“Why not let urban development run rampant?”

After commissioners Marcus Gower and Lou Brown heard from everyone, including council staff, they asked the developers and submitters to meet in another Zoom (online) room.

There they discussed an amendment to the proposal which would involve building a higher fence, screening the townhouses’ front doors and windows, and changing the landscaping plan.

The hearing was adjourned to await the amended plans.

It is three hours of my life I’m never going to get back, and I really feel sorry for the Olsens and Bill James who not only had to sit through the hearing but make a submission on a proposal which is against the council’s own rules. That must have taken them many hours.

Surely there is an easier and better way members of the public directly affected by developments like this can be represented?

And if you think that is unnecessary, Sam Foster, one of Waipā’s representatives at the hearing, chillingly told the hearing there were several other submissions already lodged with the council which did not comply with the District Plan.

The site from Taylor St

The Waipā District Plan is a key document for the district. It contains policy guidance and rules on development and subdivisions and seeks to protect important buildings, landscapes and natural area.

The Taylor Street application and another earlier this year in Coleridge Street, Leamington provide us with clear evidence that in-fill and compact housing plans are going to increase in Cambridge.

Who can we rely on to argue our case if we as residents do not agree with those proposals?

It is clear the council is struggling with the four-year-old District Plan. These are challenging times for property owners and those seeking to buy their own houses.

Most of us are not planners or property experts.

Homeowners’ life savings are, by and large, invested in their properties.

Who can protect us if homeowners cannot expect help from the District Plan – or those who drew it up?



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