Winter has brought a unique malady to many in the Super City: Unitary Blues. People are angry about council proposals for their neighbourhoods; the rezoning of specific areas to allow for intensive redevelopment is perhaps the most contentious.
As someone who rarely gets politically charged, I was surprised to find myself co-opted on to a neighbourhood group opposed to the proposed rezoning of my suburb under the Unitary Plan. Waterview is unusual but not unique in that it was subject to a "special" precinct planning process late last year, felt to be necessary because of upheavals from the SH20 extension and what was perceived as a well-overdue planning review.
Superficially this seemed like a great idea and the community was encouraged to "feed back" on the precinct "draft" proposal. Community days were organised, colourful maps erected and consultants were on hand to field queries.
To my untrained eye parts of the draft seemed ambiguous. My section of the neighbourhood, now known as North Waterview, was enshrined in a dotted line and the legend told me, lowly Citizen Jane that I am, not politicised, not overly zealous, this was a "special interest" area.
The consultant told me it was special interest because of the Housing New Zealand stakehold in the area. As a long-time resident and counting my Housing New Zealand neighbours among my friends and acquaintances this stirred only mild interest. As there was no mention of four-storey terraced housing I felt reassured that the dotted line was simply a technicality. The now-feared dark orange zone, which allows for four-storey intensification, was in another part of the suburb which intersected an area zoned as a future town centre.
The community duly "fed back" on this proposal and considered itself consulted.
Fast-forward several months and I'm wondering what went wrong with the consultation process. The final version of the Waterview Precinct plan which, strangely, included pictures of the Beaumont Quarter apartment project in downtown Auckland, was released to the public in mid-May and revealed a different vision for the future. The dark orange zone no longer intersected the proposed town centre as designated on the draft precinct plan; it was now wrapped around my end of the suburb, containing home owners and tenants alike. This hadn't been part of the draft proposal. Had we "fed back" implying this was what we wanted?
Certainly many were opposed to high-rise dwellings anywhere in the suburb. Wasn't this kind of planning at odds with the draft Unitary Plan (which Waterview's precinct plan is designed to "drop" into) which specified this kind of intensification next to town centres, arterial routes, public transport and amenities?
They couldn't have chosen a worse spot for four-level housing. North Waterview is a quiet cul-de-sac with no amenities to speak of, away from the main road and cut off from public transport.
What kind of repercussions would this kind of intensification have in an area such as this where the main stakeholder was the government landlord? North Waterview is a unique fusion of private and state-owned properties, a sleepy amalgam of fringe dwellers, where cultures and classes mingle generally in harmony, where people keep chickens and weekends resonate with the dulcet tones of Ethiopian pop music and lawnmowers belting out turf murder on the numerous full sites; so it's not social housing per se that's the issue here. Many acknowledge these full sites need to be developed, but in such a way that is sustainable and socially responsible.
Disturbingly, it transpired that residents only had a bare 2 weeks to mount any kind of meaningful opposition, but as the Waterview precinct plan was done and dusted it was only the draft Unitary Plan of the surrounding area that we could submit to. We were to have no more say on where the orange line lay.
Just how the council thinks these plans for Waterview will roll out is anyone's guess. It has talked about high-quality four-storey terraced housing (or "tenements" as the lady from the local board let slip at the hastily arranged meeting in the school hall), subject to good planning and a rigorous consultation process with the community.
But do any of us really trust them to deliver on their promises? What guarantee do we have that these noble pledges won't be systematically eroded in favour of bottom lines and developers with cash? Overwhelmingly here in Waterview there is concern from Housing NZ tenants and their neighbouring homeowners that such intensive, potentially low-cost housing will throw the finely tuned harmony in the area out of whack, that tenants will be evicted, that the lack of infrastructure will inevitably be problematic and that the local school and the community at large will bear the brunt of significant collateral damage.
A few lonely local voices disagree with our concerns. The suggestion has been made that we're against social housing and it's a case of "not in our backyard".
But this is in our backyard and it's a backyard we care about, homeowners and tenants alike. Count this as a cautionary tale, Auckland; consultation is in the eye of the beholder.
Anna Subritzky is a long-term resident of North Waterview and member of a neighbourhood group opposed to the proposed rezoning of the suburb under the draft Unitary Plan.