The removal of three 1930s character homes without public consultation is an example of how Whangarei's "weak" heritage protection rules allow the destruction of the city's best features, neighbours and a district councillor say.
The three houses, on the corner of Kamo Rd and Simons St, are about to be bowled by their owner, the Church of Latter Day Saints, which wants a bigger grassed area for the church nextdoor. The church is allowed to remove the houses without public notification and has done nothing wrong, but the decision has angered some.
Aaran Galpin lives across the road from the houses, and said Simons St was unique in Whangarei and had a "community vibe".
"This whole street is of the [1930s and 40s] era ... Eventually we're just going to become a concrete nation. I never thought it'd start across the road. Think of all the memories that just aren't going to be there any more," Mr Galpin said.
Jill Ross was a Simons St resident of 23 years, and said she too would be sad to see the houses go.
"I love it in this street, I think it's so so sad," she said.
Latter Day Saints Whangarei Stake president Anthony Poutu agreed the houses were "quite nice looking". He said the church had originally planned to demolish them to make way for a larger carpark for parishioners, but now would be grassing the area and making it as attractive as possible for neighbouring properties. "The plan at the moment with those sections is to fence it and open up that whole view to the chapel from the road," Mr Poutu said.
He said eventually the extra space might be used to expand the church.
Whangarei district councillor Tricia Cutforth had in the past been critical of what she termed as the council's "narrow" approach to protecting its heritage features. She described Simons St as a "special enclave" - the sort she would like to see protected.
"Lots of people don't know about it, but when you go down [Simons St] you go 'woah!'," she said. "My sense is that areas like that should at least be identified in the district plan as character areas. There should be a more open proactive engagement ... to ensure areas like that are not destroyed willy nilly."
In May 2013, the council adopted a "minimalist" approach to built heritage. The council is considering its Built Heritage Plan Change for the first time since 2007 - identifying the old Whangarei Railway Station, the Hukerenui Hotel, the former Bank St butter factory and two railway houses in Morningside as needing protection. Cr Cutforth criticised the plan change for being "too narrow".