US billionaire Julian Robertson's plans for a luxury lodge on Auckland's Waiheke Island are being assessed by Auckland Council after his representatives applied for resource consent before Christmas.
The application was lodged just before the Dec. 31, 2019 deadline set by the Overseas Investment Office, when it approved the $19.5 million sale of a property on Kauaroa Bay in 2018 to Waiaua Bay Farm, an entity ultimately controlled by the retired hedge fund manager.
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According to the application, the 34-hectare property would have 16 small stand-alone visitor villas of 56 square metres and an owner's lodge. It said the development, designed by Cheshire Architects, would take two years to build on the site on the southern coast of Waiheke, south-east of the township of Ostend.
The architecture firm is best known for Auckland's Britomart Precinct and CityWorks Depot. It also designed luxury lodge 'The Landing' in the Bay of Islands for lawyer-turned-developer Peter Cooper.
Auckland Council has yet to decide whether the public should have a say on the project and has sought additional information about the proposed development.
A spokeswoman for the Waiheke local board said it had been briefed on the project but didn't have a decision-making role and therefore took no formal position on the consent application. It is understood the council would likely take a role in maintaining walking tracks promised by Robertson as part of the deal to buy the site.
The developer has promised to provide public walking access to the coast and a lookout point on the property with a 300-degree view across Auckland, Koi Island and Whakanewha Bay.
Other conditions of Robertson's purchase, according to documents obtained under the Official Information Act, show that he must get resource consent by 2021 and the lodge must be operational by 2026. The application said the property would be sold if consent was not obtained.
A Dec. 20, 2019 environmental impact report described a 520 square-metre lodge with guest dining room, kitchen and reception that connects to a recreation building. A new tennis court would be built and an existing boatshed and helipad would be used.
The report by Peter Hall Planning said minimal earthworks were needed for the site because the villas would be served by narrow cart tracks given most guests wouldn't arrive by private car. They would either be picked up from the ferry or arrive by helicopter or boat.
The lodge would retain the previous owner's helipad consent, restricting the type of helicopter which can be used and hours for landing and take-off.
Sheep would continue to graze on the property.
"The activity will not result in any significant adverse effects on the environment, and therefore no assessment of alternatives is required," the 79-page report said.
The lodge is expected to employ between 30 and 40 staff as well as part-time workers and contractors for food delivery and maintenance, and the application outlined the economic benefits to the area.
"A key attraction of Waiheke for visitors is the local produce and local growers are expected to benefit from local sourcing of food and wine by the lodge's chefs."
"A principal attraction of the lodge will be the quiet enjoyment of the property by guests. There are no activities proposed that would be regarded as noise-generating activities beyond that which would normally occur in a rural-residential environment."
The application noted that the nearest residential neighbour, and the only one overlooking the site, was 350 metres away.
The lodge would be operated by Robertson Lodges, which also runs The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in the far north, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown.
While the company which operates them, Waiaua Bay Farm, posted a profit of $11.9 million on revenue of $42.65 million in the 12 months to June 30, 2019, that would be chump change to Robertson, whose net worth is estimated at US$4.4 billion by Forbes.
As well as the luxury lodges, Waiaua Bay Farm holds livestock and forestry assets as well. According to its OIO application, it employs 200 people throughout New Zealand.