By Graham Skellern
A section of longstanding sand dunes near the beach at Papamoa has been flattened - well before the developer has decided what to build on the controversial coastal property.
The developer Frasers Papamoa has pressed on by levelling the 2.7ha beachfront site after receiving earthworks consent from Environment Bay of Plenty and subdivision consent from the Tauranga City Council.
Five earthmoving machines moved in on Tuesday to clear the site alongside the Pacific Shores gated community - just a short walking distance over other well-established sand dunes to the beach.
Frasers Papamoa wanted to build a two to five-storeyed tiered apartment complex on the beachfront as part of the new $300 million residential community at the start of Papamoa Beach Rd.
A city council hearing panel knocked back the beachfront plan but granted resource consents for other neighbourhoods across the road in the Papamoa Gateway development.
Frasers Papamoa appealed the beachfront decision while a group of Papamoa Rd residents has appealed the whole development, arguing the intensity of 741 houses, apartments and duplexes for the total 25ha Rifle Range block was too high.
They claim that based on the district plan, the developer should be allowed to build no more than 45 apartments on the beachfront and no more than 550 dwellings on the rest of the site when land for roading, stormwater and reserves is taken into account.
The parties, including the council, are due to meet in mediation on June 26 to see if a mutually agreed solution can be presented to the Environment Court.
Frasers Papamoa director Stephen Short could not be reached yesterday to answer questions over why the excavation on the beachfront had already begun when this was going to be the last stage developed in five to seven years.
The Bay of Plenty Times also wanted to ask why earthworks had begun when the land use consent was subject to appeals and the shape of the overall development was not yet settled.
Frasers Papamoa is also going to the Environment Court, saying it will trim the height of its tallest apartment buildings toward the back of the site near State Highway 2 from eight to five storeys, as suggested by the hearing panel.
In a prepared statement, Frasers Papamoa lawyer Kate Barry-Piceno said the subdivision consent has been granted lawfully and allows the company to develop Residential A land as of right.
She said the site will be grassed and will be visually unobtrusive when the earthworks are completed.
As a result of conditions in the consent, the conservation zone (towards the beach) will be protected and earthworks are staying 3m away from this area.
She said if the proposed development now under appeal does not proceed, the beachfront land will be left in an improved state ready for alternative future residential development or agricultural grazing.
Frasers Papamoa was granted an earthworks consent last year by Environment BOP and a subdivision consent by the city council on June 8. Staff from both authorities were satisfied the earthworks were being done correctly after visiting the beachfront site over the past two days.
Andy Bruere, Environment BOP manager consents and compliance, said he could understand people's concerns about losing sand dunes but it was a matter of degree.
"Over the other side of Papamoa Beach Rd, development has taken place on sand dunes - and we look at environmental affects and sustainability.
"We would be concerned if they [Frasers Papamoa] came close to the coastal marine area. But in this case there is a buffer zone to maintain the long-term integrity of the sand dunes and they are well within the limit of the conservation zone."
Terry Wynyard, Tauranga City Council's group manager environmental services, said there was no legal reason why Frasers Papamoa shouldn't be granted a subdivision consent but he was disappointed the company started earthworks before the mediation.
"I would have thought it was more appropriate to go to mediation and advise the appellants about their intentions," he said. "They run the risk of not having land use consent and they may be forced into building something there that is not financially viable."
Consultant David Holland, who is representing the group of Papamoa Beach Rd residents appealing the development, said he couldn't blame the developer for starting bulk earthworks while the diggers stood idle at Tauriko.
"If I have to point the finger, it's at the council for issuing a consent while the whole thing is under appeal," he said.
Tim Richardson, a resource management lawyer, said he found the situation bizarre: "I would have thought the subdivision and land use consents would be dealt with at the same time - considering mediation is coming up."
Hugh Knight, the closest resident to the beachfront site, wasn't surprised the earthworks started so quickly. "The developer has kept us informed and we knew he was going to level the sand dunes around this time. We've always known that as of right they can put up 40-odd dwellings as long as they don't break the 9m height," he said.