'Horrific" Auckland Council rates of nearly $50,000 a year on land still being grazed by livestock prompted the $37.9 million sale of one of the city's largest land lots.
A Flat Bush farm sale on Murphys Rd also ends nearly a century's involvement in the area and half a century's control of the lush fields and native bush by the prominent Burrill family.
Bill Burrill, ex-Auckland Regional Council representative, has sold his 113ha site at 125 Murphys Rd with a rating valuation of $25,250,000 for $35,465,400. He has also sold the smaller neighbouring 1.8ha site at 89 Murphys Rd, with the house where he lived for decades, for $2,251,600.
"Essentially the rates pushed us off. I sold it out of frustration," he said bitterly, having moved 15km away to Mellons Bay but leasing the land from its new owner to continue farming in the short term.
But Auckland councillor Dick Quax said the rates bill did not seem exorbitant on such a value property and Burrill had enjoyed all the amenities of being within Auckland.
Since his late father Max bought the farm, Burrill said the family had controlled that huge block in the rapidly developing Flat Bush area, starting out in the early 1960s.
Burrill has decried his plight, unable to subdivide nor to afford to stay.
"You end up in a situation where you're absolutely stuck.
"You're paying rates but unable to do anything with the land," he complained.
Critics say that as a powerful ARC representative, Burrill had quite some control of the rural urban boundary, working in an organisation which decided where that line was set, at which point the city stopped and the country started and the influence that had on land prices and rates.
"So if he was saddled with a hefty rates bill for owning such a big piece of Auckland city land, that was his own fault," one developer said.
But Burrill hit back hard.
"I was the most diligent chairman of the finance committee they ever had, when it came to value for money. Being in that position didn't make it any easier. In fact, it made it harder because I always took the view that I never voted on anything to do with zoning as far as my own land was concerned.
"I was 18 years on the ARC," Burrill said.
Alan Wallace featured in the Herald on October 21, having sold his 16ha of land beside Burrill's for well over $40 million but describing himself as an accidental property investor because he only bought the big site in 1993 for his turf business.
The two men are neighbours and know of each other's sales.
Burrill said three separate lines of pylons also crossed his land "and that has its own limitations as to what you can do with it".
The former chairman of the ARC's regional parks committee and former chairman of the finance committee reflected on the family's close connection to the land and its extensive native bush, which he said was carefully fenced and protected.
"My grandfather Bill came to Flat Bush in 1929. My dad bought the land in 1962. I've owned it myself since 1982 or 1983 but the Burrill name has been there since about 1962."
Burrill bought in Mellons Bay because he had always wanted to hear the waves at night: "It doesn't feel a lot different. It just means I'm not paying those horrific rates."
Quax said Flat Bush land was selling for $1000/sq m two years ago but prices have doubled and now the land is going for $2000/sq m.
Change of land use means rates change
Auckland Council said Bill Burrill's property was largely zoned Future Urban in both the Manukau Operative District Plan and the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
"As such, the landowner could have applied for a plan change to live residential zonings for redevelopment," a spokesman said.
"On August 2, 2013, Bill and Maggie Burrill met with staff to discuss the future of their land, including an indication that they were doing due diligence in the event of selling. They had made inquiries through their consultant to be in a special housing area (SHA), but at that time the legislation enabling this had not been enacted. The legislation came into effect in September 2013.
Auckland Council rates according to what the land is used for. Up to and including this financial year, the lots have been rated as farm and lifestyle which is lower than the residential rate, the spokesman said.
"However, these properties were subdivided into five lots during the current financial year. The five new lots have been redeveloped for residential use and are no longer being used for farm/lifestyle purposes. As such they will attract the higher residential rate, but not until the financial year starting July 1, 2015."
In the current financial year, 125 Murphys Road and 89 Murphys Road had total rates of $60,000, he said.
Big Flat Bush sales
125 Murphys Rd, 113ha site, CV $25,250,000, sold for $35,465,400
89 Murphys Rd, 1.8ha with house, CV $1.7m, sold for $2,251,600
79 Ormiston Rd, 16ha site, CV $35.9m, sold for well over $40m