Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Council staff swapped in heritage house row

52 Hakanoa Street near the empty section at 58 Hakanoa Street, Grey Lynn.  Photo / Greg Bowker
52 Hakanoa Street near the empty section at 58 Hakanoa Street, Grey Lynn. Photo / Greg Bowker

Auckland planners are defending another disputed heritage decision in which a box-shaped modern house was approved in Grey Lynn after concerns were raised about its effect on traditional houses in the street.

In a repeat of the Paget St scandal in Freemans Bay, a council officer who raised the alarm about the design of the new house at 58 Hakanoa St was replaced by an officer who said it should go ahead. In the case of the 130-year-old Paget St cottage, council planner Jonathan Blackmore was dumped for refusing to approve demolition and replaced by consultant Brooke Dales, who approved it.

The Paget St case led to a high-level review that okayed the process but led to changes to apply more scrutiny to demolition applications. Mr Dales was also dropped from doing more heritage work for the council.

Resource consents team manager David Oakhill said yesterday the modern house, on which work has begun, was compatible with the rest of Hakanoa St.

Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers said the case was a worry.

In the Hakanoa St case, council heritage specialist Bryan Pooley said in May last year that the proposed design "differs substantially from the traditional houses in the street".

Mr Pooley said the replacement was a modern house with minimally pitched roofs with little cladding facing the street and made of precast concrete panels, cedar boards and aluminium windows.

After Mr Pooley's criticism, property owners Daniel Birt and Justine Muxlow split the original combined consent for demolition and building into separate consents - and received consent to demolish the rundown 1926 bungalow. Mr Pooley was replaced with consultant heritage architect Garry Glasgow for the new building consent.

In August, Mr Glasgow reported that while the design differed materially from traditional houses in the street, it would not dominate the local character and met the policies and objectives of the district plan.

On August 30, senior planner Mark Thode wrote a report supportive of Mr Glasgow's recommendation but leaving out Mr Pooley's comments for independent commissioner Greg Hill. The following day Mr Hill approved the new house.

Mr Glasgow has been involved with two other controversies in character suburbs. In 2008 he supported an application to demolish a large century-old villa at 51 Summer St in Ponsonby, which the Historic Places Trust said contributed significantly to the street's character.

He also supported the a modern house at 28 Arnold St in Grey Lynn in 2009, stating it was sympathetic to the character of the street lined with villas and bungalows. The house, nominated this year for a national architectural award, has been called a "vile blot on the landscape" and nicknamed The Ark by neighbours.

Mr Glasgow could not be reached for comment and Ms Muxlow declined to talk about the new house and its effect on the neighbourhood.

But Mr Oakhill defended the process and insisted the house was compatible with the rest of Hakanoa St.

He said Mr Pooley was covering staff leave when the original application was lodged and Mr Glasgow replaced him when the leave ended, before the new application was lodged.

Mr Oakhill said the council did not challenge the differing views of the two heritage experts or give both views to Mr Hill because the applicants changed their house plans and it was "not relevant". The council file shows the main change was to set the garage 2m back from the street boundary, but none of the features Mr Pooley highlighted as incompatible with the street were changed.

Mr Chambers said the fact that the two opinions were not put in front of Mr Hill called into question the integrity of the council's resource consent system for heritage streets.

He said the case preceded the Paget St review, but reinforced its recommendation that demolition and new building applications be be considered together.

"This example seems to indicate senior council officers broke the applications into two parts to subvert the very process that is now to be encouraged."

- NZ Herald

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