The Environment Court has allowed a developer's appeal for consent to build a railway station-themed restaurant and function centre in rural Waimauku, despite agencies' claims it went against planning documents aiming to preserve the countryside.
Developer Cornerstone sought consents in 2007 and was turned down by the Rodney District Council and Auckland Regional Council.
The councils, and residents' group Vision Waimauku, said it was an activity more fitting for an urban than a rural setting because of the number of staff and visitors.
The site is near the rail line on a 463ha farm, which Cornerstone owned at the time of application but sold to Malory Corporation in December.
This farm was the subject of a separate bid to subdivide it for 1375 homes rejected by Environment Court Judge Jeff Smith last month.
In the station cafe decision released this month, Judge Laurie Newhook said a hotly contested issue was whether the proposal could lead to pressure for consents for further restaurant/cafe facilities in Rodney's rural zones and encourage urban sprawl in Waimauku.
However, he said the single-storey building, more than 500m from SH16, would present effects "no more than minor on the rural character of the area, no more than, say, a moderate to large-scale house".
The site was in a hollow, surrounded by landscaping and distant from public viewing places.
The court accepted the submission of lawyer Russell Bartlett, for Cornerstone, that the district plan had not provided controls on the look of farm buildings, houses or glasshouses.
The proposal, however, would bring with it the benefit of having conditions of consent imposed on it.
Judge Newhook found the proposal was neither urban nor rural in nature.
"It is an activity ... that quite reasonably might be expected to occur in both rural and urban areas."
Ian Farrant of Vision Waimauku said last night both councils had raised reasonable and relevant objections to a proposal that was not in a rural context, such as a horse arena might be.
He said the site was outside the area covered by the Waimauku Structure Plan - published in May - which aimed to guide the town's growth over the next 20 years.
The plan restricted development around the Renall's Hill farm and rural areas to separate Waimauku from neighbouring towns of Kumeu - Huapai, Muriwai and Woodhill.
Malory Corporation will appeal to the High Court over the Renall's Hill Farm ruling.