Green light for apartments next to St James

By Heather McCracken

Developers have won a six-year fight to build a 39-storey apartment tower next to the historic St James Theatre on Auckland's Queen St.

Antipodean Apartments is among several high-rise buildings planned for inner city Auckland, including the 232m Elliott Tower and 144m Saffron Apartments, both on Albert St.

The project was approved by independent commissioners for Auckland City Council this month after the High Court quashed the first consent granted in 2003.

Developer Paul Doole said he couldn't comment on a start date for construction, adding he was reassessing his original plans in light of the recession.

"We've got an open mind on it and that's what we'll be looking at in the next four or five weeks."

The 2004 High Court ruling followed a judicial review brought by architectural watchdog group Urban Auckland which argued the council hadn't looked closely enough at the tower's design.

Council central area planning manager John Duguid said the second application had been through a "rigorous design review".

The new design, which sees the main material used in the structure changed from concrete to glass, has been backed by the council's urban design panel.

Consent was granted without public input because it was considered to have less than minor effects on the environment, Duguid said.

Urban Auckland spokesman Don McRae didn't know a new application had been approved and hadn't seen the new plans.

The development means the 1928 St James, damaged by fire in 2007, won't be reopened. Instead, it will be sealed watertight and then mothballed for the foreseeable future.

Limited preservation work will include some earthquake-proofing and restoration of the original Queen St tower that has remained hidden behind a facade since 1953.

The apartment block will be built alongside the heritage-protected theatre, requiring demolition of the disused Odeon, Westend and Regent cinemas.

About two-thirds of the 332 apartments will be one-bedroom units sized between 41 and 49sq m with a balcony.

Under district plan rules, one-bedroom apartments in the city must be at least 45sq m, but the balcony can be included in the floor space.

The Historic Places Trust has approved the project, although heritage advisor Robin Byron said they would prefer to see the theatre restored.

"We've worked very hard to try to include all sorts of provision for ensuring that the building is protected from the weather, from vandalism and from deterioration so at some time in the future it can be used again."

- Herald on Sunday

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