Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Old Herne Bay villa to make way for shops, apartments

158 Jervois Road is to be replaced by a four-storey commercial/apartment development. Photo / Richard Robinson
158 Jervois Road is to be replaced by a four-storey commercial/apartment development. Photo / Richard Robinson

The heritage suburbs around Ponsonby are to lose another early building - this time a wooden villa - to make way for a four-storey concrete commercial and apartment development.

Developer Jon Sandler plans to move the villa at 158 Jervois Rd in Herne Bay to build the "striking, architecturally designed" Herne Bay Ridge, containing six apartments and three ground-floor studio offices on the narrow corner site fronting John St, a residential heritage zone.

The loss of the villa is the third threatened heritage building in the Ponsonby area to come to light in the past few months.

A company controlled by property mogul Michael Friedlander, seventh equal on the NBR Rich List with $900 million, has removed one of the earliest buildings on Ponsonby Rd - a two-storey cottage at 81 Ponsonby Rd - for a new retail space.

Mr Friedlander's Samson Corporation has also obtained permission to rezone a small 1890s cottage at 2 Hepburn St from a residential heritage zone to Business 2.

The company says it has no plans to remove or demolish the cottage - but councillor Sandra Coney said the new zoning would make it easier to demolish the building.

In all three cases, planners at the former Auckland City Council approved the measures without giving the public a say.

In the case of 158 Jervois Rd, planner Anthony Traub concluded in 2007 that the effects on the environment would be minor and no one would be adversely affected.

The property was zoned Business 2 and outside a conservation area containing several two-storey Victorian and Edwardian shops further along the same stretch of Jervois Rd.

The latest threat to the city's built heritage has been described as part of "death by a thousand cuts" by councillors, who have asked for a report on how heritage issues were handled at the former Auckland City Council.

Waitemata councillor Mike Lee said there was apparently a secret "death list" of threatened buildings known only to council planning staff - a claim denied by chief planning officer Roger Blakeley.

Mr Sandler said he had no qualms about shifting the villa in Jervois Rd, possibly to Ponsonby or Westmere. Plans for the new development were approved in May and the luxury apartments were listed for sale at the weekend.

The developer said he did not believe the villa was a heritage building. It was not the original villa but was moved to the site 40 or 50 years ago, had a 1980s addition on the back, was half rotten, and sandwiched between a 12m high commercial building and across the road from a BP petrol station, he said.

"When you see it hard up against the adjoining building, I don't think it has any architectural merit," said Mr Sandler, who developed the neighbouring 12m building.

Waitemata Local Board member Christopher Dempsey disagreed, saying the villa contributed to the heritage and character of Jervois Rd.

Mr Dempsey blamed the Auckland City district plan, written 20 years ago when the values placed on heritage were radically different from today, for the loss of so many heritage buildings in the area.

He said a new district plan being developed by the Auckland Council could be crafted and sufficiently nimble to reflect the public mood towards heritage, but ultimately the solution lay with councillors and planners collectively drawing a line and saying "no" to developers.

Heritage manager Noel Reardon said situations like Jervois Rd could continue until the current district plan rules were changed, which was not a speedy process.

He said the new council had made improvements for heritage buildings, but there were still concerns about assessing the heritage value of buildings that were not known or scheduled in the district plans.

"We know we have got to do better," Mr Reardon said.

The council is developing a heritage plan setting up a heritage advisory panel and putting $10.3 million into a built-heritage protection fund.

- NZ Herald

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