Raid silences loud signs

By Stuart Dye

Auckland City Council is calling it an improvement to the urban landscape, but the owner of a landmark shop says the removal of his signs has left an "abandoned warehouse".

Council officers mounted a pre-dawn raid on Mt Eden's Retravision Stereo World, cutting down more than a dozen signs worth up to $100,000.

The 99-year-old Dominion Rd store, which has marketed itself for 25 years as "the ugly blue building", had failed to comply with the council's signs bylaw.

Glenda Fryer, chairwoman of the planning and regulatory committee, said the action was "a last resort, but one the council makes no apologies for".

"This is a beautiful older building with an important place in Auckland's history," she said.

"We do not want significant historic sites such as this lost beneath a mass of modern advertising."

With the signs removed, the unique detailing and original character of the building could shine through.

But Stereo World co-owner Bill Belton said the clampdown was sterilising the area and destroying its natural character.

"The store looks like an old abandoned warehouse now."

Stereo World has been something of a Mt Eden icon with its garish blue and red colours, and giant signs covering the walls. Some of the signs have been in place since it opened in 1980.

But the advertising has been removed under bylaws that state signs should not significantly alter the presence of buildings.

Stereo World signs contravened this by:

* Covering an area greater than 50 per cent of the largest wall.

* Covering windows.

* Being more than 5m high.

The advertising covered most of the building's Edwardian Italianate heritage and the council told the Herald last year that its "historical bibles" showed there were no permits.

"Stereo World or its agents did not respond to requests made in November to provide information for dispensation from the bylaw," Ms Fryer said. "The council was left with no other option but to seize the offending signs."

Mr Belton was told last September that the signs had to go, but said he had been in negotiations with the council over special dispensation. He had employed a town planner, and had been told nothing would happen until talks began again in the new year.

But he arrived at work last week to find the signs gone. Security footage revealed a council team had struck between midnight and 4am.

"It's like some dawn raid, which has a pretty unpleasant ring to it when it's the council we elect and fund."

Mr Belton said his own research had uncovered council permits and letters from 1984, which he hoped to use to fight back.

"We've been here longer than the council, its officers and the councillors, but there seems to be an agenda at work. They want to change the whole look of the area, but Mt Eden is what it is."

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