A $100 million subdivision development near Queenstown has been stopped because the developer cut down 34 mature protected willow trees.
The Environment Court has ruled that the developer of Threepwood, an exclusive 41-section subdivision on the western shore of Lake Hayes, "breached the spirit, intent and desired effects" of the Queenstown Lakes District Plan by cutting down the trees.
In a strongly worded ruling this week, Judge Jon Jackson and two commissioners declared the original resource for Threepwood invalid.
Investors who had paid between $1.2 million and $4.5 million for lots in the subdivision may be able to cancel their contracts and seek refunds, the court said.
It ruled that the development could go ahead only when the trees had grown back, which could take 10 to 20 years.
Finishing touches to the subdivision, including roading and lighting, were being done this week when the court's decision was released.
The 41 sections are at Ladies Mile and Slope Hill at the western end of the lake. Twelve have been sold.
Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Duncan Field said the court's decision meant a large part of the Threepwood development no longer had a resource consent.
The developer, Meadow 3 Ltd, would have to reapply.
Mr Field said the council had been surprised at the harshness of the decision "because literally the penalty is that the developer can't obtain titles and can't press on. Probably the biggest thing from the council's point of view is that it's a really major reminder to developers that they have to read the fine print in their resource consents and make sure they comply with it".
Mr Field said he doubted Meadow 3 would appeal against the court's decision because the appeal process could take longer than if the company reapplied for a consent.
Meadow 3 director Jim Boult said yesterday that the company viewed the Environment Court judgment as an interim one.
"The judge says he has issued his judgment only in draft form, inviting comment from the parties involved," he said. "We have got to see what the final wording is before we make any decision [on an appeal or reapplication for a consent]."
Judge Jackson found Meadow 3 contravened its land use consent by removing, delimbing and pruning trees and carrying out development before approval of a planting plan.
Starting building now would likely cause "serious adverse effects" on the Lake Hayes environment, particularly when viewed from the east side of the lake, he said.
"While we accept some remedial work is possible ... it is impossible to stick live branches back on to the many trees which have been delimbed."
Arrowtown resident Fred van Brandenburg said he felt vindicated after taking the matter to the Environment Court "for the nation's sake".
"This is a national treasure, a national icon. If it had not been stopped I think the nation would have turned around and said, 'How the hell did you let that happen?' "
Lakes Environmental acting chief executive Brian Fitzpatrick said parties were welcome to comment on the decision and clarification was needed on several points, including whether the ruling would affect development at the Slope Hill part of the site. "I made it very, very clear right from the word go that this was not a nimby ["not in my back yard"] decision ... This was an action taken on behalf of anybody who walks the track, drives into Arrowtown or lives near it. It's the most photographed site in NZ."
Mr Field said a part of the Threepwood development was granted approval on the basis of conditions protecting trees.
The developer was able to apply for a variation to the original consent, but would need to provide solutions to the visibility issues caused by the felling of the trees.
- NZPA, OTAGO DAILY TIMES