Decision looms for Smith's Farm future

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The peaceful subdivision of Westridge Drive. Photo/file
The peaceful subdivision of Westridge Drive. Photo/file

Tauranga City Council will consider three options for the development of Smiths Farm, Bethlehem.

Late last year, the council agreed to the sale/development of land at Smiths Farm, Bethlehem, and to recommend the site as a Special Housing Area (SHA) to the Minister of Housing to allow for suburban residential development.

The council also decided to rule out Westridge Drive for road access for a suburban residential development, and to require a buffer between Smiths Farm and the existing Westridge subdivision. This buffer would comprise of rural residential lots and stormwater reserve/ponds.

The Minister of Housing approved the SHA on 15 February 2016. To be able develop a site under the SHA legislation, resource consents need to be lodged by September 2016, when the Tauranga Housing Accord will be repealed.

The next step is to decide when and how the site would be developed. Council has a choice between suburban residential development and rural residential development.

Council delayed this decision-making, planned for February, to enable a discussion with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) around the future timing of the Tauranga Northern Link project (TNL) - 6.8 kilometres of new state highway from Te Puna to the tolled section of Takitimu Drive in Tauranga. The proposed TNL route runs through the lower undevelopable part of the Smiths Farm site, and timing of its construction would impact the sale / development of the site as well as local road access requirements. NZTA will be involved with the design and delivery of any local road access improvements that cross the TNL designation, and may contribute to funding these. In addition, all the land designated for the TNL may not be required for the construction of the road, in which case the remaining land would be released back to Tauranga City Council.

The Minister of Transport announced on April 22 that the TNL has been brought forward, with construction to begin in 2018, once detailed design and land purchases are completed.

Tauranga City Council can now progress decision-making on development of Smiths Farm, and will consider three options at the Council meeting on Tuesday next week (May 17, 1pm).

Option 1:Proceed with suburban residential development of the SHA, ahead of the development of the TNL, by progressing resource consenting to meet the September deadline.
Pros: receipt of funds from the sale / development of the site in 2016/17; contributes to accommodating the city's population growth.
Cons: potential lower value achieved for the property sale with development happening at the same time as the TNL is being constructed; complicates road access delivery; rules out using any land not required for the TNL.

Option 2 Align suburban residential development of the site with the completion of the TNL, potentially progress rural residential development of the buffer zone in the meantime.
Pros: cost benefits and coherent overall outcome from coordinating the delivery of both projects; NZTA support in road access delivery and funding; expected higher value achieved for the property sale; contributes to accommodating the city's population growth.
Cons: requires rezoning the relevant part of the site for suburban residential development in the City Plan; delays receipt of funds from the sale / development (could partly be offset by sale / development of the rural residential buffer zone).

Option 3Proceed with rural residential development, access through Westridge Drive.
Pros: enables the land sale / development to continue without delay; more immediate financial return.
Cons: lower land value, less development contribution revenue, less on-going rates revenue and less ability to accommodate the city's ongoing population growth; no NZTA funding for local road upgrades.

Council staff recommend adoption of Option 2, because:
• it responds to the relationship between the development of the Smiths Farm site and the TNL project;
• it is likely to result in the best long-term financial outcome for the Council;
• it is consistent with SmartGrowth principles e.g. compact city; and
• it would increase housing supply and provide more housing than the rural residential development option.

Council will in the future need to consider whether to sell the land to a developer, partner with a developer or undertake the development itself. This decision will not be made at the Council meeting next week.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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