Lake Okareka residents are divided over changes to the draft spatial plan which could see future development in the community.

The Rotorua Lakes Council draft spatial plan includes an area of "proposed expansion for growth" at Playnes Farm, on the southern side of Lake Okareka.

A spatial plan decision-making report presented at last month's Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee meeting said there had been "strong opposition raised to the proposed expansion for growth".

During the full council meeting, the council voted to recategorise the growth area from "now" to "next" giving the council time to consider "the potential environmental and recreational outcomes as well as the natural hazards within a Lakes A zone review in consultation with the community".

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The Lakes A zone covers most of the eastern lakes including Lake Tarawera and Lake Okareka.

Settlements and development within the Lakes A zone have a specific set of objectives, policies and rules which differ from the rest of the Rotorua district.

Okareka resident Dr Toni Withers said residents and landowners did not want to see "environmentally damaging development in the Lakes A zone".

"Lake Okareka Community Association members have unanimously voted to not support this change of land use of Playnes Farm to a large residential and shopping area.

"Playnes Farm appears to be a very unsuitable site for residential development."

Withers said there were communities, such as Mamaku and Lake Rotoiti, that were crying out for development, but not Lake Okareka.

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"This is not just another hill, this is a unique and fragile environment."

Lake Okareka Community Association chairman Martyn Norrie said it was apparent the council was still "entertaining the proposals within the spatial plan" and had not listened to the community.

"Our concern is that if the unacceptable proposals remain within the spatial plan that is finally ratified by the council, they will become the template for future Rotorua Lakes Council planning and action in the future.

"The community's opposition to the proposals within the draft spatial plan has been clearly communicated."

The council's strategy group manager Jean-Paul Gaston said the draft spatial plan identified areas "with capacity for growth and development of various types" but was not intended as a definitive plan.

"Having a spatial plan ensures that when growth does occur, it happens in a planned and previously thought-out manner, rather than ad hoc.

"The fact an area has been indicated as having potential for future development does not mean it will necessarily occur."

He said there was still a formal process to go through to enable the area could be developed, such as a review of Lakes A zone, but any changes to those would not mean development "would definitely occur".

Mary Campbell, an architect and Lake Okareka resident, said the Lakes A zoning from a "pure design and construction perspective" was a positive thing.

"The zoning is in place to protect the integrity of the natural environment and to create buildings which blend in and are sympathetic.

Campbell said even if Lakes A zone restrictions remained the same, there were lots of variables.

"It would depend on the section sizes, the number of houses built, there would still be an impact to the environment."

Gaston said moving Okareka into the "next" or long-term category meant the council could include discussion on the proposed expansion as part of a wider consultation on the review of the Lakes A zone.

"Okareka was identified as a possible area for development due to its residential desirability, proximity to the city, available land and existing infrastructure.

"Public consultation will form the basis of the Lakes A Zone review but we do not want to pre-empt what changes may or may not result."

Farm owners Fenella and Lucy Playne were unhappy residents were discussing their land without consulting them.

The Playne family have owned the land south of Lake Okareka since 1937, they currently have about 809ha between Okareka and Tarawera.

"We don't disagree with [the proposed change], but we reassure the community that certainly in my lifetime I can't see that sort of development happening here," Lucy said.

Lucy said her family had worked hard to farm in a way that was sympathetic to the environment and had donated land at the edge of the lake to create the Okareka walkway.

They do hope to one day subdivide a "small area" of the land around Wattle Rd but nothing like the scale of the proposed change, Fenella said.

"Not one single member of the community got in touch with us to see how we felt," she said.

Gaston said the council had had discussions with a number of landowners, including members of the Playne family, during the preparation of the initial discussion document.