Auckland's controversial Unitary Plan is being tested by plans for a retirement village with buildings of up to seven storeys in the residential neighbourhood of St Johns, where the height limit is three storeys.

Summerset Holdings Ltd has lodged a resource consent application with Auckland Council to build a 344-unit retirement village on a 2.6ha site fronting St Johns Rd in the city's eastern suburbs.

An image of the proposed St Johns Retirement Village. Source / Summerset.
An image of the proposed St Johns Retirement Village. Source / Summerset.

The mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments and care facilities is made up of seven buildings of between three and seven storeys. The seven-storey building is 13.15m over the allowable height.

We have designed the buildings with input from prominent architectural and design consultants

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Summerset chief executive Julian Cook said the village would play a vital role in freeing up Auckland property at time when housing supply was under pressure and would help elderly people to stay living in the community.

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However the plan has attracted opposition from several current and former residents, including Ruud Kleinpaste - better known as "The Bugman" - who is worried about its effect on the local bush.

The application has been publicly notified by council, prompting a big push back from the Orakei Local Board, concerned about the height infringements and worried about it creating a dangerous precedent for other developments.

During the Unitary Plan process, the council stressed the mixed housing suburban and mixed housing urban zones - which cover the Summerset proposal - respectively provide for a mix of homes up to two and three storeys.

"The community has reason to expect a built environment of no more than three stories in this mixed housing urban zone area," board chairman Colin Davis said in a submission.

The board said local boards across Auckland were facing challenges with ensuring developers comply with the generous provisions in the Unitary Plan, while acknowledging some developers would test the plan's interpretation to get the best commercial return.

"The challenge for (planning) commissioners...is when infringements are allowed to exceed the stated regulated heights, a precedent is set for other developers to then used to justify their future projects," the board said in a submission.

The Orakei Local Board said it was not opposed to developments provided they fully complied with all the standards in the Unitary Plan.

"This will have a significant adverse effect on the social, environmental, economic and amenity values of the local community," the board said.

A nearby resident from Ripon Crescent, John Tinling, said in a submission the planned village is overly and oppressively dominant in the local and wider St Johns and Meadowbank area and have an adverse effect on the neighbouring St Johns Bush, designated a significant ecological area in the Unitary Plan.

Cook said the layout of the village has been carefully designed to make best use of the existing site, such as locating the taller buildings against the backdrop of St Johns Bush - a design principle endorsed by council's urban design panel.

"The question of whether the height of buildings is appropriate is at the discretion of the independent commissioners appointed to the upcoming resource consent hearing," Cook said, saying there are many examples of similar taller buildings in residential neighbourhoods.

"We have designed the buildings with input from prominent architectural and design consultants," he said.

Kleinpaste wants to protect the St Johns Bush stream, which is home to whitebait, koura(freshwater crayfish) and the odd eel.

The ecologist, who lived next to St Johns Bush for 12 years, said there was no doubt in his mind that the proposed development "would annihilate the biodiversity" of the bush stream, its wetlands and the aquatic habitats further below.

"Run-off and stormwater excess from hard surfaces will contaminate the stream system, especially in Auckland's weekly '100-year' floods," Kleinpaste said.

Bug Man Ruud Kleinpaste is opposed to the retirement village, saying it will destroy the biodiversity of St Johns Bush.
Bug Man Ruud Kleinpaste is opposed to the retirement village, saying it will destroy the biodiversity of St Johns Bush.

Cook said there were plans to remove a very small number of trees, but Summerset was undertaking extensive weed removal and native replanting resulting in a net gain for the bush.

"Stormwater effects on St Johns Bush have been well mitigated and indeed improved from the existing situation by us diverting sheet and channel flows away from the edge of the bush," he said.

The Orakei Local Board said if the application was approved, it wanted the two tallest buildings lowered and reduced in bulk, development set back 10m from St John Bush to create ponds to hold stormwater during heavy rain, and large oak and karaka trees kept on the proposed site.