A council flip-flop on heritage will be put to the test with an application to demolish the historic Bethany Centre in Grey Lynn and build five houses on the site.
Developer Cameron Ireland wants to demolish the Salvation Army's former home for unmarried pregnant women in Dryden St and develop the site without the public having a say.
His application says the site is surrounded by villas, but the effect of the project will have only a minor effect on the neighbourhood.
However, Mr Ireland's wish to have the application approved on a non-notified basis looked less likely yesterday after the council tightened the rules on the longer process of public notification.
Until now, senior council planners have insisted the Resource Management Act and district plan rules prevented them from publicly notifying demolition applications in the Residential 1 and 2 character zones.
They also insisted that a "special circumstances" clause in the act "should not apply" to notifying demolition applications.
In the controversial Paget St case, consultant planner Brooke Dales said the public should not have a say about demolition of the 130-year-old cottage because there were "no special circumstances to warrant public notification".
But after Paget St and other heritage issues highlighted in the Herald this year, the council received a legal opinion by Simpson Grierson which not only said it could use "special circumstances" to notify demolition applications but the clause could be more liberally used.
The council's legal counsel, Wendy Brandon, yesterday said the council should not shy away from using special circumstances, saying factors that could trigger the clause included recognition of "protection of historic heritage", a high degree of public interest and the age and history of the property in question.
She said the "special circumstances" clause would also apply to demolition applications outside the Residential 1 and 2 character zones and "certainly will be considered" for the Bethany property, which is zoned Residential 5.
The new rules could also apply to three current demolition applications in the Residential 1 and 2 zones at 9 Waitemata St, St Marys Bay; 84 Selwyn Ave, Mission Bay; and 33 Burwood Cres, Remuera.
The move to tighten up the rules on public notification was made by the regional development and operations committee.
It followed a recommendation from the council's heritage advisory panel, which wanted tighter rules introduced immediately to plug a gap of several years before a new unitary plan takes effect.
Waitemata councillor Mike Lee, whose ward contains thousands of Residential 1 homes, said half the problem was the shock of people being woken by the sound of bulldozers.
"It's time for this council to have a no-surprises policy with its own people," he said.
April 16: "The RMA requires that a consent authority must not publicly notify the [demolition] application if a rule in the district plan precludes that - as it does under Plan Change 163." - Dr Roger Blakeley, chief planning officer.
May 29: "If a district plan specifically provides for an activity to take place [for example, the demolition of a pre-1940s building in the Residential 1 or 2 zone] special circumstances should not apply." - David Oakhill, resource consents team manager.
June: "The existing provisions in rule 22.214.171.124 [of the district plan] provide that applications may be notified in special circumstances [and] could be more readily used by the council." - Simpson Grierson legal advice.
June 21: "It is possible for Auckland Council to notify [demolition] applications using special circumstances and council may consider using special circumstances more readily." - Council counsel Wendy Brandon.