Art and fashion leaders unite to fight 'ugly mall'

By Bernard Orsman

Bigger plans for the controversial $250 million Soho Square development in Ponsonby have run into big opposition from locals, including the area's art and fashion brigade.

Musician Don McGlashan, actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand, fashion designer Adrian Hailwood, artists Karl Maughan, Judy Darragh, John Reynolds and Pamela Wolfe and art consultant Hamish Keith are among 750 submitters calling on the council to reject the latest plans for the old DYC vinegar factory site.

More than 800 submissions poured into the Auckland City Council after Marlin Group announced its latest plans, which go 18m over the height limit and breach other controls in the district plan.

Nearly all of the 50 or so "letters of support" were from businesses and individuals consulted by Marlin's planners, Green Group, over plans for the 1.3ha site fronting Williamson Ave, Crummer Rd and Pollen St.

A previous plan, which envisaged going 70 per cent over the permitted floor area, attracted 222 submissions, mostly opposed. The council's urban design panel said the previous plan was too big and out of character for the historic inner-city suburb.

Marlin responded by going back to the drawing board - and coming up with even bigger plans for the site. It reconfigured the development to provide more commercial space and fewer shops, cafes and bars, introduced the "feel of the Ponsonby main strip" and brought the height and bulk into the middle of the site.

None of this has washed with the vast majority of submitters, who have called the plans a "concrete jungle", a "huge ugly mall" and a "giant blot on the Ponsonby/Grey Lynn landscape". Traffic concerns are another worry.

Kenneth Johnson of Ponsonby summed up the general feeling by saying "this ugly proposal ... will destroy the historical uniqueness and aesthetic appeal of the area".

Lydia Chai of Mt Eden urged Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard to reject the proposal and "save us".

Mr Hubbard has promised to end low-quality developments in the city and vet every new building under strict urban design criteria.

A council urban designer will vet the latest Marlin proposal as part of an officers' report for a panel hearing the resource consent application by Marlin. The developer already has resource consent for underground carparking on the site and started work in February.

The ASB Community Trust, which has its headquarters in the listed Allendale building on the corner of Ponsonby and Crummer Rds, says the area is a landmark setting of important heritage value to Auckland.

The Historic Places Trust is concerned at the "lack of provision for the protection of heritage value as part of the proposed development".

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority, charged with providing public transport across the region, says the application is a "good example of the integration between land use and transport" but wants the number of carparks capped at 1250, instead of the proposed 1317.

Penny Sefuiva, one of the area's two councillors, agreed with the "loud and clear" message from locals that Marlin's plans were out of scale and not sympathetic with the character of Ponsonby. The other councillor, Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker, refused to say if he was for or against the plans, saying he might be selected to sit on the panel hearing the application and had to keep an open mind.

Marlin project director Paul Hudson yesterday said very few objectors had taken the opportunity to view the developments plans.

He said the development was proceeding in accordance with approved resource consent for 33,000sq m of lettable space and 1250 carparks.

He said the additional height was the subject of the latest resource consent applications and Marlin would proceed through the process.


The Latest Plan

* Seven new buildings up to eight storeys high on the 1.3ha site.
* Mostly commercial space but some retail and 52 apartments.
* Five-level underground carpark with 1317 spaces.
* Exceeds height limits by 18m.
* Greater Ponsonby Rd feel.
* Height and bulk moving to middle of site.

Against The Plan

* Jennifer Ward-Lealand (actress).
* Adrian Hailwood (fashion designer).
* Nicola Legat (former Metro editor).
* Richard & Pamela Wolfe (author and artist).
* Richard McWhannell (artist).
* Hamish Keith (art consultant).
* John Reynolds (artist).
* Judy Darragh (artist).
* Don McGlashan (musician).
* Karl Maughan (artist).

For The Plan

* Auckland Regional Transport Authority.
* Carole Beu (The Women's Bookshop).
* Hector Palmer (SPQR restaurant).
* Harry Bhana (Bhana Bros Fruiterers).
* Mark Castle (The French Art Shop).
* Lorraine Brooks (Work and Income, Ponsonby Rd).

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