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Five towers up to 14 storeys and apartment buildings about seven storeys high on the water's edge are part of an urban design-led focus for the huge waterfront development at Auckland's Tank Farm.

The new proposal to treble the planned headland park to 4.25ha has been welcomed but the 35ha slice of harbourside land still includes contentious residential and commercial aspects for the public to comment on.

In a nutshell, there will be a "stepping down" of building heights towards the water. The most prized development land, on the eastern side of the headland, will be about seven storeys on a central road, tapering down to three storeys at the edge.

The proposal includes four, 52m buildings south of a new entertainment strip on Jellicoe St and another 52m building further south. Between Victoria Park and Jellicoe St, most buildings will be six-to-eight storeys and slightly lower on the western edge where the marine industry will be.

The public bodies in charge of the project insist that urban design, not commercial gain, underpin it.

Building heights look set to be a bone of contention when the public get a chance to comment on rezoning the land from marine industrial to a mix of public space, residential, commercial and other uses. The zone change will be notified this month.

Last year 66 per cent of submitters opposed a plan allowing buildings of 10-to-16 storeys along Daldy St.

Auckland resident Neville Thompson, who has taken a strong interest in building heights at the Tank Farm, yesterday said a good indicator of the project's general height would be to draw a line from 32m Vodafone House on Fanshawe St to the top of the concrete of the cement silos in Jellicoe St.

He said the height would have "a hell of an impact" for harbourside views from Freemans Bay, Ponsonby, St Marys Bay and the Princes Wharf apartments. It would also affect views for people walking around Westhaven.

Buildings should be no higher than four or five storeys, he said.

Peter Casey, who heads Auckland Regional Holdings, which owns 18ha at the Tank Farm, said the public owner was not a property entrepreneur but a "long-term community entrepreneur".

ARH had consciously given up the chance to make a "quick buck" from the Tank Farm to take a long-term, urban design-led approach, he said.

ARH chairwoman Judith Bassett said the revenue-generating retail, residential and commercial elements of the project were necessary to provide more public open space and minimising of the height of buildings demanded by the public.

"It is important for the public to understand the trade-off required to provide public amenity. There is a significant cost in doing so," she said.

Mr Casey said ARH had worked with Auckland City Council to ensure the development had a "marbled effect" of residential, commercial and retail to make it people-oriented.

Auckland City planning general manager John Duthie said there were plans for about 2500 apartments and a residential population of about 7500.

Mr Duthie said the Fanshawe St frontage and the area around the fishing industry would mostly be offices.

"The heights and the floor area ratios are driven off an urban design approach. We had a panel of people come and look at the heights ... It is all about trying to get that balance."