A sticking point for a $1 billion housing and lakes adventure park at Hamilton's northern gateway could be its proximity to the Waikato River, the big public attraction of the proposal.
With a commissioner's hearing of local Perry Group's bid for the green light for Te Awa Lakes due to start on November 25, an interim recommendation by a planning expert is that only the land for the adventure park and associated businesses should get the wanted zoning change.
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Independent planning consultant Grant Eccles in a report to the Hamilton City Council says "at this point" he doesn't recommend that Perry's private plan change application relating to 1500 proposed new houses be accepted.
The 62 hectare Te Awa Lakes site beside the Waikato River is currently zoned industrial.
Perry Group, a long-established Waikato family development company, is seeking the plan change for rezoning so it can create a tourism and recreation destination, supported by housing and businesses.
However, Eccles saw "no impediment to full acceptance of the (private plan change) on bigger picture strategic land use and reverse sensitivity grounds".
But he said a number of important specific matters on the suitability of the site for residential development were unresolved, preventing him from recommending full acceptance of the plan change.
They included unresolved geotechnical risk and uncertainty about the proposed finished level of the site in terms of a 100-year flood risk from the Waikato River.
But Eccles emphasised that if the uncertainty could be remedied by more information from Perry's and the city council, he saw no other impediment to recommending full acceptance of the plan change, or partial acceptance with any necessary provisos.
Perry's master plan proposes riverside, medium density and general density housing areas, a mixed use zone, an adventure park with accommodation, a tourism precinct and open spaces for walking, cycling and recreation.
The plan change has attracted 61 submissions - 42 of which generally support it for the new housing and recreation opportunity, and because it would create an attractive gateway to Hamilton and support the Te Awa River cycleway.
Supporters say industrial activity is not the best look or use for the site, which was once pastoral but in 1995 became a sand quarry. All sand processing stopped in 2017 and the site is vacant. The idea of a water park, its associated planned visitor facilities and the likely economic and new job benefits are also attractive to these submitters, who said the proposal was more compatible with the Waikato River environment.
A handful of submitters support the plan change in part, seeking amendments to specific development controls, for example the height of buildings on the Waikato River.
Opponents are nearby established and developing industrial operators - Fonterra, Ports of Auckland, Open Country Dairy, meat company Affco, and Contact Energy. The NZ Transport Agency also opposes the development.
Broadly, they argue the development is incompatible with industrial activity in Te Rapa North and Horotiu; that residents would complain about that industrial activity (reverse sensitivity) which would threaten the companies' economic viability or investment decisions; that altered land use in the Horotiu area would set a precedent for further changes; that the transportation network would be negatively affected; that the economic effects of the loss of the industrial land resource have not been adequately assessed.
The region's Future Proof Growth Strategy committee in 2017 opposed the plan change, citing a lack of evidence to support it, but last year changed its position to support after receiving information from Perry Group.
Waikato District Council, in whose territory part of the development would sit, is neutral.
Waikato Regional Council originally opposed the plan, but Eccles' report said its position had since shifted on updated information.
Energy company Mercury has withdrawn its earlier submissions.
Eccles said the positive effects of the plan change included enhanced recreational use of the Waikato River and the site, economic benefits from the adventure park and visitor accommodation, and the economic and social effects from increasing Hamilton's housing supply. A net cultural benefit had also been identified by Waikato-Tainui.
The project's landscape and visual assessment report had identified that a change to a "fine grained" housing development with a strong open space network would have a moderate to high positive effects on scenic values and the interest of the northern entrance to Hamilton.
Perry's reactivated its 2017 private plan change application to the council after the Government early this year declined the company's bid to progress the development through the Special Housing Areas Act.