The Auckland Council has agreed to a new facade for the heritage-listed Civic Administration Building after strong opposition from its own heritage department and Heritage New Zealand.
The heritage wrangle is the latest chapter in a long-running saga to strip the former Auckland City Council skyscraper of asbestos and build apartments.
Developer John Love hoped to have the 103 apartments completed by now after being awarded the project in September 2016, but construction has been held up by heritage requirements and other matters.
It took until June last year to complete a deal for Love's company Civic Lane Ltd to buy the building and 5000sq m of surrounding land for $3 million, prompting a complaint by mayoral candidate John Tamihere to the Serious Fraud Office over the price as "incompetence or corruption".
The SFO cleared council property arm Panuku of any wrongdoing, but raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest involving Panuku chief executive Roger MacDonald over a trip to the Bay of Islands from a company with links to Love.
Council documents show Civic Lane sought approval in August last year to change the design of the facade of the Category A heritage-listed CAB, designed in the modernistic style in the mid-1950s and the city's tallest building when completed in 1966.
The proposed changes were for a modern curtain wall that "substantially replicates" the original facade minus sunscreens on the western facade, vertical expressed mullions and horizontal louvres on the western and eastern facades.
"Overall, the effect of the changes in facade design, in terms of visual amenity values, are considered to be less than minor and likely to go unnoticed by most viewers with the visual effects of the proposal remaining very similar to that consented," said a report from Love's planners, Mt Hobson Group.
However, the documents highlight opposing positions in the council over the new facade, with a senior planner, Daniel Kinnoch, in support of the changes and a team leader in the heritage department, Rebecca Fogel, opposed.
Kinnoch sided with the applicant's experts over a specialist assessment by Fogel.
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"I recognise and agree with the argument made by the applicant's experts that the east and west facades are just one element of this place, and that Ms Fogel has perhaps focused on this element unduly more so than the scheduling suggests should occur," he said.
Kinnoch added Civic Lane had made a significant effort to maintain and protect other primary features without modification and no economic purpose, such as the Lord Auckland statue and the basement auditorium.
Fogel said the heritage team at the council only accepted the loss of the facade in the 2017 resource consent because it was agreed it would be replaced with "new material as a faithful and exact replica".
She said the proposed facade solution is not a good heritage outcome, and will result in adverse heritage effects on the CAB that go well beyond what was approved during the original consent.
"The exterior of the CAB is the most important expression of the building's technological value, its physical attributes, and aesthetic value.
"The proposed change from a highly modulated three-dimensional aluminium facade to a more two-dimensional, smooth curtain wall with narrower fins is problematic from a heritage perspective," Fogel said.
NZ Heritage senior conservation architect Robin Byron said it was agreed at the resource consent stage the loss of original building material would be mitigated by a faithful reconstruction of the original faces.
A report by heritage and conservation architects Salmond Reed for Civic Lane at the time of the resource consent application repeatedly made clear the new facades would be faithfully and exactly replicated, she said.
One assurance from Salmond Reed that Byron quoted said: "It is considered that the full reinstatement of the exterior cladding in material that exactly matches the original will remedy the loss of that fabric and thus preserve the architectural significance of the building."
Byron said the fundamental changes to the reinstated facade have an "unacceptably detrimental effect on the design intent and integrity of the heritage building".
In a decision on March 17, independent planning commissioner Richard Blakey disagreed the changes would reduce or destroy the heritage values of the CAB and approved the application.
He said the new facades on the east and west sides of the building will mitigate the loss of the original facade fabric.
"The degree of visual change to the building will remain minor for most persons who view it from the surrounding area. It is unlikely that there will be any recognisable adverse effect on visual amenity," said Blakey, saying the changes would secure the long-term viability of the CAB for residential use.