Kohimarama residents want Auckland Council to reject a $150 million Ryman Healthcare retirement village plan which they say breach height limits by more than double and act as a warning to all Aucklanders.
But experienced planning barrister Kitt Littlejohn encouraged the community group to understand the Unitary Plan, saying land developers using new thresholds were "not the bad guys" and it was outdated to view them like that.
Ryman says it is aiming to satisfy rising demand from the area's large retired population and to build a village the community regards as "a great addition".
Neighbours disagree and fear the prospect.
"This is a warning to all Aucklanders," said resident Andrew Prins, whose home backs onto the vacant 3.1ha lot at 223 Kohimarama Rd and 7 John Rymer Pl below Selwyn College which Ryman is leasing from Ngāti Whātua under a 150-year term.
"The design smashes through the 11m height limits set in the Auckland Unitary Plan. If they can build double the height, then any H5 zone is vulnerable to having someone build 21m next to single-level homes."
The group Kohi Neighbours has distributed flyers to rally locals to object to the scheme which the council has notified for submissions closing on Wednesday, October 15.
Neighbour Nic Nigro said concerns included traffic impacts being near Selwyn College and St Thomas's School, construction impacts, environmental effects, precedence and falling property values. About 5000 truck movements would have a massive effect on the quiet suburban neighbourhood, he said.
"Three storeys is in the Unitary Plan and they want to go eight," Nigro complained.
Littlejohn said: "The difficulty for most lay-users of the Unitary Plan is that they treat the permitted heights in the various zones as a limit which cannot be exceeded. But that is not how this plan works.
"The permitted heights - and other development standards - are set at levels whereby adverse effects (from that height etc) are considered acceptable, i.e., deemed not to be adverse. But the plan does not define the point at which the effects become adverse," Littlejohn said.
Michael Davison said he walked through the area regularly, enjoyed the green spaces and a stand of native bush at the end and worried about the bulk and height of buildings.
Roy Cohen only bought in John Rymer Pl about a year ago and now faces the prospect of walls looming up against his boundary. Some neighbours have already engaged lawyers to advise them on objecting to the plans, Cohen said.
But Littlejohn said: "Land developers using the new planning thresholds for Auckland are not the bad guys here and there is no justification to treat them as such. They are perfectly entitled - indeed, are now encouraged by the new national policy statement for urban development capacity - to apply to develop land with more intensive land uses in urban areas. Neighbours are also perfectly entitled to object. Neither is right or wrong – they are simply responding to a change in the planning regime and the direction that has been clearly signalled by national government. Turning it into a sensational battle of good vs evil is simply outdated."
Margaret McGavin, of the nearby Whytehead Cr, is worried about subcontractors' vehicles and asked how safe it would be for students and parents at the two schools at the start and end of school days. McGavin also cited Ryman's Grace Joel village in St Heliers, its Edmund Hillary in Remuera and plans by Summerset Group on St Johns Rd saying they all catered for retired people who wanted to move into such places, so accommodation was plentiful.
"There's no shortage of these villages in this area," she said.
The group also includes neighbours Catherine Barkworth, Leith Hamilton, Lori Nielson
Billy Harris, Michael Davison, Teresa Bodzassy, Wawang Prins and Roy Cohen. All plan to object to the scheme and talked to the Herald about negative effects on them and the area.
Ian Smallburn, the council's resource consents general manager, said although 11m-high buildings were permitted in the mixed urban zone, developers could apply to build higher in which case resource consent would be needed for infringements.
"The six proposed buildings exceed the 11m permitted height by between 6.1m and 10.4m and therefore resource consent is required," Smallburn said, citing further infringements on boundaries.
Neighbours also complained of the limited notification process whereby only some were made aware of the plans, but Smallburn said the council had complied with the Resource Management Act's and an independent duty commissioner had agreed.
On traffic concerns, he cited Ryman's application with a transport assessment study and draft construction traffic management plan.
Ryman said it "welcomed feedback about its plans. We worked closely with the council throughout the design of this comprehensive care retirement village proposal".
It made no comment about exceeding height limits or height to boundary provision infringements.
"Our architects and urban design teams have designed the village to limit effects on neighbours and this is evident in the set-back distances from the southern boundary of the site, the orientation of buildings and generous landscaped areas throughout.
Ryman manages construction internally so is best placed to adhere to resource consent conditions and manage construction effects," a Ryman spokesman said.
"We have presented to the Auckland Urban Design Panel and received a good response from them. We are engaging with the local community now and listening to their concerns," he said.