A long-standing Rotorua-based development company is vowing to push ahead with an upmarket housing complex in central Rotorua despite having to stall building and refund buyers because of hold-ups getting resource consent. Journalist Kelly Makiha finds out what's happening with the planned Ashworth Villas, on the corner of Ranolf St and Malfroy Rd.
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Buyers for an upmarket central Rotorua housing development are to be refunded their deposits after the project has officially stalled until next year because of issues getting resource consent.
The developers behind Ashworth Villas, a modern 50-home gated development on the corner of Ranolf St and Malfroy Rd, have this week told their home and land buyers they are being let out of their contracts as they didn't think it was fair to make them wait any longer.
Holmes Group, a Rotorua-based family-owned business, has tried since August last year to get resource consent but has come up against significant capacity issues with the council stormwater network.
Managing director Ryan Holmes said it had now submitted the consent application three times and had spent about $750,000 in the process, leaving the company feeling "disappointed" and "frustrated".
However, he was still upbeat about the potential of the land.
Rotorua Lakes Council said it had just received the last pieces of information it needed and it would now work through the application process.
Holmes said given the delays, contracted builders and earthmovers had taken other jobs, meaning if resource consent did come through soon, it would still have to wait until after winter to get under way.
For commercial reasons, Holmes would not disclose how many confirmed buyers were involved but said it was a "significant number".
The Holmes Group bought the 20,000sq m site in April last year. It was formerly owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been vacant since 1988.
Home and land packages officially went on sale in September last year and it was to be a mix of two and three-bedroom villas designed for those aged 50-plus who were looking to downsize from large family homes.
Prices ranged from $697,000 to $758,500 and the project included a shared leisure facility and club rooms, including a geothermally heated lap pool and plunge pool.
Holmes said the process had "dragged on" for a long time.
"We have extended contracts we had in place twice already and we don't think it's fair to keep extending them when we don't have a definite time when we will get resource consent from the council."
He said the issue was a lack of stormwater capacity in the council's network.
He said they lodged the first resource consent in August 2018, again in May 2019 and now again this month.
"We have gone a full circle which could have been avoided ... The reality is this land previously had stormwater capacity (from a hotel that was previously there) and for whatever reason, this was taken away from the site. This issue should have been dealt with differently from the start."
The Rotorua Daily Post asked the council to explain why the development had been unable to get resource consent, what the stormwater issues were, why the process had taken so long and if the delays were reasonable.
It was also asked why the stormwater capacity was taken away from the site and how disappointing the delays were given the housing crisis and the need to increase available homes.
In a written statement, planning and development manager Jason Ward did not answer the specific questions but said the council had been working with the Holmes Group since before its application was lodged on August 22, 2018.
"Council has just received the last pieces of information from the Holmes Group and will now work through the complete application as part of the consent process," Ward said in the statement.
"Council is very motivated to see more housing in Rotorua and endeavours to work collaboratively with developers to ensure a smooth and timely process as possible."
Ward's statement said the council was responsible for ensuring developments met legislated requirements and adequately addressed known risks and potential adverse impacts to safeguard the public and protect the environment.
"Council has been working collaboratively with the Holmes Group over the past 12 months, which has resulted in a complete application being put forward for resource consent earlier this month."
Meanwhile, Holmes said while some developers might have pulled the pin, they were not going to walk away.
"We will get the resource consent and then reassess the best way forward. We will have to go back to the market when we are ready. At the end of the day, it's an awesome piece of land and it's zoned for what we want to do."
Bayleys manager Beth Millard, who is marketing Ashworth Villas, said it was "immensely disappointing" but the process so far proved there was a strong market for what they were doing.
"We had multiple unconditional contracts early on after the launch and a database of 127 registrations of people who were keen. People want to downsize from their family homes for a lock-up-and-leave lifestyle."
She said the buyers were "devastated" because they were excited about the project, but she was confident many would come back once resource consent came through.
"There's absolutely a market ... I'd receive a phone call daily about Ashworth."
She said delays such as this didn't help the housing crisis as those 50 homes potentially freed up their homes on the market.
"We have people looking for houses and not enough stock."
She said some other developers might not have stuck it out.
"Holmes Group is a family-owned local business that is passionate about our community. They want to develop here and will invest here. This is their home too and there's a lot of goodwill with the buyers."
She said those who had contracts would be offered priority when the development went back on the market, followed by those on the database already.
Waiting to downsize
Rotorua retirees Ben and Kathryn Ngahuru are disappointed they can't get started on their new home at Ashworth Villas but are prepared to wait.
The couple live on Riverholm Dr and were excited to buy a home and land package at Ashworth Villas as it would allow them to downsize and live in a modern and low-maintenance housing complex.
But rather than buy elsewhere, Kathryn said they would still go ahead once resource consent was granted.
"It is ideal for us. I have a mobility scooter and I'd be able to pop to the shops, the granddaughter goes to Glenholme School and the big one goes to Rotorua Intermediate. She will be able to just walk down to us after school."
She said she hoped it got the go-ahead.
"We were supposed to start in February. But we are in no hurry. We have a nice home here and we know we will get a good price for it."
Ben said the developers and Bayleys were working hard to make it happen and had kept them fully informed.
"They are straight up and honest with us and always come to see us with updates."