Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Decision on historic home sparks fears for others

Owner Wynnis Armour wants to pull down the 130-year-old cottage and replace it with a larger house. Photo / Dean Purcell
Owner Wynnis Armour wants to pull down the 130-year-old cottage and replace it with a larger house. Photo / Dean Purcell

Protection of Auckland's historic homes is doomed if a decision to demolish a 130-year-old cottage in Freemans Bay is allowed to stand, says Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers.

Mr Chambers is disturbed by comments from consultant planner Brooke Dales that the property at 18 Paget St demands a larger house to reflect the $1.63 million value of the land.

Herne Bay businesswoman Wynnis Armour was granted resource consent last month to demolish the cottage on a large 685sq m section at Paget St, which has panoramic views of the city.

She paid $2 million for the property in November 2010. It now has a capital valuation of $1.73 million, of which the land is valued at $1.63 million.

Senior Auckland Council planning and legal officers have been forced to reconsider a hotly debated decision by Mr Dales to allow demolition of the cottage, which dates back to at least 1882 and has an addition made no later than 1908.

A full peer review of the consent decision follows revelations by the Herald that Mr Dales was given the case at the 11th hour.

Mr Dales replaced a council planner, Jonathan Blackmore, who had been working on the application for five months and supported the view of the council's conservation architect, Stephen Curham, that the application should be declined.

In his report, Mr Dales said he was not a heritage expert, but cited his broader planning skills as a reason for reaching a different conclusion to Mr Curham and Mr Blackmore.

Mr Chambers, a lawyer, said Mr Dales was "plainly wrong" in his interpretation of the district plan and the objectives and policies for the Residential 1 heritage zone.

If land value determined the future of heritage homes, "then the protection of historic homes in historic areas such as Residential 1 are doomed".

Heritage advocate Allan Matson is highly critical of a report in favour of demolition prepared by heritage architect Dave Pearson for Ms Armour's planner, Martin Green.

Mr Matson, who is on the Historic Places Trust board and the council's heritage advisory panel, said Mr Pearson's incomplete assessment was a reflection of systematic flaws in the council's heritage procedures.

"There is clearly a need for a broader review. Paget St is most definitely not an isolated incident."

Waitemata councillor Mike Lee said council management needed to understand there was a culture in the planning department of allowing developers to destroy heritage buildings, which was damaging the public reputation and respect for the council.

The Paget St cottage is the first heritage controversy to occur under Mayor Len Brown, who promised to do more to protect heritage after the public uproar at three Spanish mission-style houses being levelled in St Heliers last year.

ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST DEMOLITION

The decision to allow demolition of 18 Paget St followed conflicting views between heritage architects Dave Pearson, acting for the applicant Wynnis Armour, and Stephen Curham, acting for Auckland Council.

Under the district plan rules for the Residential 1 heritage zone, the architects had to assess the application using the criteria below.

Here's what they had to say and their conclusions:

Whether the building has retained its original (or repaired) visual design features relating to form, mass, proportion and materials so that restoration/renovation of the building is practical and reasonable.

Pearson
The building appears to have been constructed in stages and the original part was possibly moved onto the site and extended. Subsequent changes have made restoration/removate of the building impractical and unreasonable.

Curham
The building is intact with regard to form, mass, proportion and materials. The street elevation has undergone alteration. Most of these are likely to have occurred during the interwar period and reference to the then fashionable bungalow style. It would be relatively simple to restore the original cottage elements lost from this facade, such as double hung windows and a continuous open balustraded verandah. The decorative wood-ware items that constitute these elements are still manufactured and are routinely replaced or altered throughout the Residential 1 housing stock of Auckland.

Whether the demolition or removal of the building will detract from the continuity and special character of the streetscape as a whole.

Pearson
The majority of houses, particularly on the western side of Paget St, are modest two-storey cottages constructed close to the road. As a single storied cottage set back from the road, No 18 is at variance with the predominate character and disrupts the continuity of the streetscape.

Curham
Some analysis of the streetscape has been undertaken. This analysis does not take the form of a continuous street elevation strip. However, the loss of a house that is very old in the Auckland context clearly will detract from the continuity and special character of the streetscape as a whole.

The applicant's assessment of environmental effects suggests that because the streetscape has evolved slowly since 1864 that therefore the streetscape is not uniform. Therefore, according to the applicant, the house does not contriubte to the streetscape. This is a confusion of streetscape and character, as uniformity of period is not a necessary factor in a strong and interesting heritage streetscape. In fact, this evidence of slow evolution and development is in many ways of greater interest than the uniform streetscape found in streets that were built together, such as the avenues of Herne Bay.

Whether any historical qualities and original design features of the existing building are visible from a public place.

Pearson
Some historical qualities or original design features are visible from the street. These include a pair of French doors and the front door. Other original design features are obscured by later additions.

Curham
The building is intact in terms of form, mass, proportion and materials and is visible from a public place. Therefore demolition is not justified in terms of a lack of historical quality.

In rare cases where the building is beyond rehabilitation in terms of poor structural or physical condition and the costs of repair work or upgrading necessary to extend the useful life of the building are prohibitive (in comparison to the costs of a new building of similar size) an application may be considered favourably.

Pearson
The building is generally in poor condition with some roof leaks evident. The floor of the verandah has extensively decayed. Inside the house, the floor is uneven throughout. The kitchen and bathroom facilities are substandard for modern living.

Curham
There is some rot immediately evident in the flooring of the verandah. This is a very common location for rot to occur in villas and cottages. Replacement of flooring in this area is part of the routine maintenance of such houses and does not justify demolition. The floor of the house is reported as being 'up and down'. This is the result of movement in the timber subfloor.

Replacement in part of complete of timber subfloor foundation elements is routine building work in timber hosues and is not considered to be sufficiently onerous or prohibitively expensive so that demolition is justified as an alternative.

The upgrading of kitchens and bathrooms to modern standards is likely to have occurred several times in the life of this house. The house would not have had internal plumbing and bathrooms when constructed. A further upgrade to current tastes is not regarded as sufficient justification for demolition either.

Whether the building is beyond rehabilitation to its original state and the costs of the rehabilitation to reproduce the historic qualities of the building and enhance the architectural qualities and special characteristics of the streetscape and the surrounding area, in comparison to the costs of a new building of similar size.

Pearson
The building has been altered to the point where its original form has been largely obscured. The cost of rehabilitating to the point where it can be returned to its original form are likely to exceed the cost of a new house of similar size.

Curham
The building is intact with regard to form, mass, proportion and materials. The street elevation has undergone alteration. Most of these are likely to have occurred during the interwar period and reference to the then fashionable bungalow style. It would be relatively simple to restore the original cottage elements lost from this facade, such as double hung windows and a continuous open balustraded verandah. The decorative wood-ware items that constitute these elements are still manufactured and are routinely replace or altered throughout the Residential 1 housing stock of Auckland.

An exception to the above is the moving of a building within the site which will be treated as construction or relocation of a building.

Pearson
No comment

Curham
A possible outcome for this site is relocation of the 1880s portion of the house to the front of the site to align with the neighbouring houses. Redevelopment could then occur behind the original cottage. If such an option has already been considered and rejected then the reasons for this should be provided in support of the proposal to demolish.

Conclusion

Pearson
The western side of Paget St in particular has a clearly defined architectural character, with the majority of houses being two storied cottages on narrow sections.The house at No 18 is at variance with the predominant style and disrupts the continuity of the streetscape.

For this reason, it is considered that removal of the house will not detract substantially from the continuity and special character of the streetscape as a whole.

The house itself has been extensively modified over the years and many of its original features have been lost or concealed behind later modifications. It is generally in poor condition. Return of the building to its original form and to a good condition is likely to exceed the cost of constructing a new house of a similar size.

Curham
This application does not meet the criteria of the district plan with regard to the historic built environment and special charater. The effects of this demolition on the heritage values of Paget St are more than minor.

- NZ Herald

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