Tāmaki Makaurau hapū Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has changed plans for its first commercial housing subdivision, in response to the pandemic.
Neil Donnelly, property general manager, showed the Herald inside two of the first 13 North Shore homes at its Oneoneroa project, explaining how construction and marketing was delayed during the Covid-19 lockdown but now the scheme was back on track.
Rising demand for home office space off living/kitchen/dining areas has prompted the business to alter plans for the next 15 of 28 residences it will build.
Instead of building at the lower end of Rutherford St on the North Shore at Belmont where earthworks are done, newly configured places would rise a block away on the corner of Eversleigh and Lowe Sts, Donnelly said.
• Covid-19 delays Ngāti Whātua's 550-residence project
• Premium - 'Virtual refugees': Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei - the hapū that refused to die
• Ngāti Whātua heads on block as leader admits 'error' over Bastion Point statue
• Premium - Pandemic prompts Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei to put Eastcliffe rebuild project on hold
"In the last eight weeks, we changed the plans for the design of stage two due to Covid-19. A third room seems sensible as a flexible space downstairs. That's what people want. We'll build about half of the 15 new places with these third rooms. With so many more people working from home now, it can be an office, another bedroom or have other uses," he said.
Toy areas, playrooms, or a flexible bedroom space for visiting relatives or friends were other uses, he added.
Loss of land has been a tragedy for the hapū but the expanding housing project could be a key to its financial future as it takes a commercial approach to hard-won assets.
Land is not only a key to the entity's future but the subject of its terrible loss. In 1840, Ngāti Whātua occupied about 38,000ha in and around what would become New Zealand's biggest city but by 1952 it had a pitiful less-than-a-quarter-acre or 1000sq m at the urupā in Okahu Bay, where the koiwi lay.
Now, high hopes ride on the first completed and second planned stages of its initial commercial housing initiative: Oneoneroa, Shoal Bay's original name. Oneone means sand and roa means long, referring to the archaeologically significant chenier plains at Hauraki.
Ōwairaka tree impasse: Time to move forward, agree protesters and Ngati Whatua
270 Newmarket insurance staff moving to CBD next year
The 1950s and 1960s weatherboard ex-Navy homes on big sites at Waioroka/Belmont are being removed in blocks and the first 13 terraced two-level energy-rated dwellings in two rows are finished, staged for sale at the newly created subdivision near the water at Te One Pl off the cul de sac Rutherford St near popular café Little & Friday.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is one of Tāmaki Makaurau's wealthiest landowners, with land holdings of about 167ha in and around the CBD, including Quay Park and Spark Arena.
It employed ex-Todd Property executive Donnelly, with broad experience including at the milestone Long Bay project. The new property development general manager has more than 17 years in the sector, active in some of New Zealand's largest housing schemes.
The business plan for the Oneoneroa housing project is not to discount for Ngāti Whātua iwi, as it did in its first scheme on Kupe St in Ōrākei: "Our aim is to make a normal commercial return, rather than giving discounts to individual iwi members," Donnelly said.
Loans were provided to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei members to assist them to buy affordable homes in Kāinga Tuatahi (first place). There, about 12 run-down state houses were demolished to make way for the 30-home communal scheme near Orākei Marae at Takaparawha, or Bastion Pt.
Nor is Ngāti Whātua retaining land ownership, as it did with the Wakakura block at Ngataringa Bay, which it bought for about $10m and has now leased to Ryman Healthcare for 150 years. At Oneoneroa, freehold titles are being sold.
Why? This is most attractive to home buyers, who are suspicious of leasehold.
In this case, the hapū is willing to part with the precious whenua to give the best commercial return.
Capri Construction and Residential Services won the contract for the first 13 homes.
Construction of the next 15 dwellings was due to start around September, Donnelly said, but that $12m contract was yet to be awarded to a builder and earthworks were only at very initial stages.
"Yielding an acceptable return to recycle back to the iwi", is how Donnelly described the profit motivation.
"A lot of iwi kids didn't have access to any [computer] devices so Ngāti Whātua provided 110 in the last six to eight weeks," he said, also referring to a free medical insurance scheme. House sale profits fund such schemes.
"And my role is partly to provide employment opportunities to whānau and it will be easier to achieve that once we scale up".
Studio Pacific Architecture is master-planning a 13ha block after Warren & Mahoney worked on the first master plan.
In 2012, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei agreed to buy seven blocks of surplus Navy land through its 2012 WAI388 Treaty of Waitangi settlement, planning hundreds of new homes there, many in terraced-style format, somewhat unpopular locally because of higher density.
Donnelly said the land was being purchased in tranches every two years. All up, around 20ha of land could mean 800 new homes, he estimated.
Two to four-bedroom places are selling from just under $1m to $1.45m and Donnelly forecasts similar prices for the next 15.
A $250,000 retaining wall at the first 13 homes was etched with images of reeds to reflect flora in the area "and iwi members were involved in that design", Donnelly said.
Latest Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Rawa accounts show $33.3m revenue in the year to June 30, 2018 rose to $47.4m in the year to June 30, 2019.
"We have acquired properties across Tāmaki Makaurau to develop and generate important revenue to invest in our hapū," the business says. "These commercial ventures allow us to achieve our tribal development aspirations, finance positive social services and deliver housing solutions for whānau within our papakāinga."
However, not all has gone well for the business on the property front. A confidential settlement was reached in a $16m High Court case launched last year between evicted Eastcliffe retirement village residents at Orakei and the business after 33 units were demolished because of leak, seismic and fire threats.
The homes were going to be rebuilt. Plans were launched for a new multi-level apartment block and NZ Strong has been on site since January but the project was put on hold this month because of the pandemic.
Roger Levie, who helped elderly residents in the case, said this month: "It was good to get a result and to have the majority of residents in our group settled in other retirement villages before the lockdown hit us. I'm not at liberty to provide details related to resolution of the High Court proceeding, but I can tell you that the residents were very relieved to get the matter resolved and to know where they will be seeing out the rest of their days."
The iwi business also lost the late Sir Rob Fenwick from its board. He had been there from its inception. Board chairman Michael Stiassny said: "His contribution is far too large to be referred to just in mere words."
Community concern has already been raised about the new housing's negative environmental effects: "We are greatly concerned that by cramming intensive housing developments onto this peninsula there is a greater need for robust and resilient protective conservation measures," Trish Deans, Philip Moll, Graham Pitts and Iain Rea, of the Bayswater Environment Action Coalition, said.
Ironically, they fear project sediment runoff could endanger the shell reef the Oneoneroa project takes its very name from.
Donnelly replied: "In addition to strict resource consent conditions there are a number of control measures such as over-sized silt ponds, silt fences, use of flocculation, contour bunds and active management such as continual stabilisation and temporary closing of earthworking areas prior to heavy rain that we will be looking to implement during further earthworks to ensure the safety of the marine environment and enhance water quality."