Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Big names in Franklin Rd fight

Two prominent owners want to move eight villas for more intense development

Franklin Road residents (from left) Bill Ralston, Ross Thorby, Janet Wilson and Hamish Keith. Photo / Getty Images
Franklin Road residents (from left) Bill Ralston, Ross Thorby, Janet Wilson and Hamish Keith. Photo / Getty Images

A rich lister, a high profile QC, a prominent media couple and an arts doyen are locking horns over the future of Franklin Rd, which attracts hordes of visitors to its street display of Christmas lights.

Property mogul Michael Friedlander and newly appointed QC Marie Dyhrberg are seeking changes to the council's Unitary Plan to allow them to remove eight villas for more intensive development.

The prospect of losing the villas is riling residents, including media couple Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson and arts commentator Hamish Keith, who shares one of the street's grandest homes with his partner, Academy Award winning costume designer Ngila Dickson.

The issue is driving a wedge between prominent defence lawyer Ms Dyhrberg and Franklin Rd's chief cheerleader, Ross Thorby, who started the annual Christmas light display to build community spirit and whose home is often the brightest on the block.

Mr Thorby has made a submission opposing Ms Dyhrberg proposal for possible commercial development on the site of five villas she owns, but says the lawyer is a friend and does not want to speak publicly.

Mr Friedlander, seventh on the NBR Rich List with a fortune of $950 million, is media shy and operates his vast property portfolio in Auckland through Samson Corporation and Sterling Nominees.

Through these companies, Mr Friedlander wants 2 Franklin Rd and 2 Arthur St, which includes Ponsonby Backpackers in a large villa with its distinctive turret, changed from a residential to a town centre zone due to the sites' proximity to Ponsonby Rd.

Further down Franklin Rd at numbers 80 and 80a, Mr Friedlander wants to change the zoning from single house residential to mixed housing urban. His companies' submission says the single housing zone only provides limited development opportunities and the land lends itself to future intensification in line with the council's goal to increase housing supply.

Ms Dyhrberg points to the judicial process for not wishing to comment personally on her desire to remove a pre-1994 heritage control over five villas she owns in a mixed use zone at the bottom of Franklin Rd.

The single-storey villas, one of which she uses as an office and states in a submission have been significantly modified, have the potential to be developed as a whole to "better serve the property and local community".

Fred's cafe, previously Agnes Curran, at the top of Franklin Rd is the meeting place for the street's tight-knit community, where there is fighting talk over coffee.

Bill Ralston, who lives across the road from the backpacker's lodge, says the danger is Franklin Rd will follow nearby College Hill and disappear as a residential area and become a largely commercial district.

Not only will Franklin Rd lose its character but the community itself, he says.

Hamish Keith, who lived in Remuera for 23 years and in that time only met two of his nine neighbours, says he has never lived in a street where there is such a sense of community.

Commercial creep at both ends of the plane tree-lined street threatens the underlying heritage and urban nature of Franklin Rd, he says.

More commercial buildings also stand to exploit the annual Christmas display, which Mr Keith says, is put on by residents as a present to the kids of Auckland, free of sponsorship.

The arts critic says he is not against intensification, but the argument of liveable cities was about having strong communities and if you eat at the edges you may as well not have them.

Marco Creemers, who runs Mr Friedlander's Samson Corporation, accuses the residents of being a "bit frightened of the unknown", saying there are plenty of controls in place to cover their concerns.

Instead of "scaremongering", the residents should leave matters to the panel of commissioners hearing submissions on the Unitary Plan, or new planning rulebook for the city, which is expected to make recommendations to the council in 2016.

Neighbourhood arguments like this are expected to become more common under the Unitary Plan, which allows for greater intensification, especially in areas where residential housing is next to commercial or industrial areas.

- NZ Herald

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