Hotel's fate rests on point of law

An image of how the Dunedin Hotel might look if built. Image by supplied.
An image of how the Dunedin Hotel might look if built. Image by supplied.
The fate of Dunedin's proposed $100 million waterfront hotel could turn on a legal argument about its height.

A Dunedin City Council hearings committee adjourned on Thursday after four days of arguments, expert evidence and public pleas on the 28-storey hotel, which Betterways Advisory Ltd wants to build at 41 Wharf St.

Amid worries about pedestrian access, transport disruption, noise, shading and wind, the main point of contention to emerge has been the proposed building's towering height.

Submitters argued it would dominate its surroundings and disrupt views.

However, a legal argument by Betterways and the company's expert witnesses - rejected by lawyers and experts opposing them - could be crucial to the debate.

Betterways hoped to build the 96m-high hotel on industrial land, meaning the building's mix of commercial and residential activities - including restaurants, apartments and bars - would not comply with district plan rules, a council planner's report concluded.

However, Betterways' solicitor, Phil Page, last week argued an industrial building of the same height as the proposed hotel would be allowed on the site as of right, without a resource consent, under a ''permitted baseline test''.

That was because the industrial 1 zoning of the land had no height limit placed on it.

That meant the argument was over whether a hotel - rather than a tall building - was the problem, unless the committee considered the proposal for such a tall industrial building was ''fanciful'', he believed.

The report by council planner Lianne Darby, which recommended consent be declined, concluded it was, and therefore the permitted baseline test did not apply.

''The proposed development is unlike anything existing or anticipated for this site or area ... the expectations for the site are still to be framed within the context of construction that is non-fanciful."

However, Mr Page argued that was ''misguided'', saying an international logistics hub for Maersk or P&O were examples of large industrial buildings that could be built on the site.

''The proper approach ... is not to try to predict whether someone might build an industrial building of this scale, but rather to consider whether to apply the permitted baseline or not."

Betterways' consultant planner, Don Anderson, told the committee to turn its attention to district plan rules ''rather than to personal emotions''.

Under that assessment, there would be ''little, if any'' physical impact arising from the hotel's construction that was more than district plan rules allowed, he claimed.

There would be shading from the hotel, but the district plan only controlled shadows from buildings falling on a residential zone, Portsmouth Dr or Dukes Rd, or in Sawyers Bay - not from 41 Wharf St.

Disruption to views caused by the hotel's height was also not an issue that could be considered by the committee, Mr Anderson argued.

He acknowledged there ''will be a loss of existing view shafts'' from Waverley, City Rise and upper floors of the heritage warehouse precinct, ''but these views are not guaranteed by the district plan''.

The district plan's ''extensive'' rules controlling the external appearance of buildings around the city also did not apply to 41 Wharf St, he said.

That meant ''little, if any'' weight could be given to the submissions on the building's height or appearance, while shading and loss of views were not issues of concern for the hotel under the district plan.

However, solicitor Alistair Logan, acting for the Otago Regional Council, which opposed the hotel's development, took a different view.

Claims there were no adverse effects from the hotel, because no height limit could be applied, were ''not tenable''.

It was up to the committee to decide if the permitted baseline test - which, if applied, would exclude height as an issue - should be applied, he said.

The hearing will resume on December 17 for a second round of public submissions, expected to take up to three days.

The committee will then begin deliberations on all the evidence - including the legal issue and other considerations - but a decision is not expected until early next year.

Elephant > Room

We need China. This superpower is the most courted nation in Oceania. Obviously, Communism has got something going for it.

A better way to travel

I'm starting to think stevepf owns a Mercedes, and likes to go ballooning.

Industry experience?

IWASЖ I would love to hear your industry experience, and more importantly how long you've been out of it. I dont know many, if any, that would bet theiur bottom dollar that every word you say is right. 

The Chinese traveller on average spends around $3500 in NZ over an average length of stay (for holiday reasons) of 6.1 days. The younger and older age groups that travel are generally self drive or semi FIT and of the age group that is booking package tours (30-49 yrs) only around 50% is booking tours.

I know we have a long way to go to be attracting the perfect chinese tourist but given NZ attracts predominantly the 35-64 age bracket even if 50% are self drive that is a positive thing. [Abridged]


Again with your generalisations

IWAS: Again it seems you chose to use sweeping generlisations rather than fact - "BTW. Ever heard of a five star hotel without a souvenir shop? Not in my travels and experiences."

Well yes, in fact I have. Lets look through all the five star hotels in NZ - Intercontinental and Bolton in WLG doesn't, nor does the Langham, Hilton or Pullman in AKL, or Sofitel in Queenstown. Need I continue?
They will not put souvenir/retail shops in a hotel based in Dunedin. If they dont see fit to do it in our major cities, then why would they do it here?
Regardless of whether the hotel had a souvenir shop, Chinese package tourists still spend money. As I said, maybe not as much as some, but clearly you place no value on the dollar if you think we should be turning it away. [Abridged]

I like heritage but . . .

I like heritage, when it is maintained nicely, used, has a propose, and is clean, however that is not the case in Dunedin with a great many heritage buildings left to squatters, and to be demolished by neglect.  Now we have the wave of earthquake paranoia that is sweeping the country heritage, which makes heritage just that bit more unattractive.  People don't want eyesores, so what about the old post office, or the grotty old sheds on the waterfront, or most of South Dunedin? or significant parts of North Dunedin?  I'm not a huge fan of location or size of the hotel, but I would rather cast the die and see what happens than sit in a decaying derelict Dunedin that does nothing to attempt a future other than complain about things that might or already have occured.  Bring us the Crystal Spire Hotel.

Read first


Please read my former comment again and adjust your failed criticism accordingly. You are either suffering from acute amnesia or you need to brush up on your reading skills. 

BTW. Ever heard of a five star hotel without a souvenir shop? Not in my travels and experiences. Either way, one of my mates' jobs was to fax the souvenir brochures that the group tours ticked on the bus, hotel or plane. She just sent the details and they got it delivered. These big tours don't spend full stop, if you have evidence to the contrary, prove it.  


stevepf says "if you've seen the design there is no souvenir shop in the hotel". stevepf thinks concept drawings presented in an application or to hearing are final designs. The applicant has repeatedly stated there has been no engineering study, that sort of study can change the dream... as well as the design. Somebody is going to get a fright. Somebody hasn't read the DCC's consulting architect's report. Oh dear, being a believer can be such hard work, or plain disappointing.

You've got me wrong

gw_scam: You've got me wrong.  I am not against a new hotel or any developments in Dunedin as long as it's something that complements the area.  This proposed building does not fit whatsoever.  Dunedin can do so much better than this (Think The Savoy Hotel in London if you want to know what I consider a classy 5-star land mark).  Some pre-fab profit maximized Miami cookie cutter monstrosity adds nothing to the surrounding environment of Dunedin it only detracts from it. 

It doesn't say bold, confidence, progress or future it only says "what were they thinking?".  Also, I lived a few mins from Gulf Harbour, maybe it's been a while since you've been there.  Latest fear is that it's now being eyed up for state housing.  It's nothing but fields of styrofoam peach colored cubes (or blue when the tarps are out) trying to look European, it fails miserably.  I guess everyone has differing views of "progress".  I'm sure these developers know what progress is for Dunedin, it's whatever maximizes their ROI.

So hotel opponents only want heritage?

Cityrise: It interests me that you say you moved here from Auckland a year ago, buit are opposed to modern buildings being built here.

It interests me because I too, along with my family, moved here from Auckland about five years ago.  We too love Dunedin - not sure about some of the long term residents, but the city is great.  Yet the one thing I have seen that Dunedin is missing and so desperately needs is an injection of confidence. I am surprised you are anti-hotel, as the other Aucklanders that I know here are all for it.

I can honestly tell you that just today as I walked the city in my lunch time, I looked around and the first thing that occured to me was Dunedin so needs a major new landmark.  Something that says 'yes, Dunedin is full of important heritage buildings - but look, it has confidence in moving forward hand in hand with that heritage.

Cityrise - I have to take your word for it that you did in fact move here from Auckland, yet your comments about Gulf Harbour now just being fall of rotting buildings puzzles me.  The last I saw of Gulf Harbour, it was an amazing beautiful piece of real estate.   Auckland City is growing by the day - taking all the money and jobs with it.  Yet you want Dunedin to do the opposite?  Interesting.



Off the mark

IWAS you are so off the mark. Firstly, if you've seen the design there is no souvenir shop in the hotel. Secondly, are you then suggesting it's not Dunedin people that get paid to work there, but Chinese? And that those working then spend money back in the said Chinese hotel and souvenir shop?
It shows you know very little about tourism if you honestly believe that Chinese travelers only put money into the hotel they stay in. Tell that to Larnach, Taieri Gorge, the peninsula activities as well ... I'd love to see you win that argument.
If you hold that view then you shouldn't want any hotel in Dunedin open except Scenic, as none of them are owned by Dunedin people, or NZers for that matter. [Abridged]

Every tourist is a good tourist

Punters dont have a problem with the Southern Cross. Even Wains back in the day, where my parent upended an aspidistra in 1951. Silly place for it,, apologised the staff. I have seen Chinese communists staying at Southern Cross. They were quite happy.

re: 'One of the we'

I'm from Auckland, came to Dunedin over a year ago as I fell in love with the city. I'm basically a technology exporter, so to speak. I've invested around $150k into the local economy since being here.
If I saw Dunedin heading towards being another Auckland I would not have moved my family and business here. Are there not enough "modern" cities for people to move to? You say today's modern is tomorrow's heritage? Hmm, you should try that sentiment in Auckland where the modern seaside development "Gulf Harbour" consists mostly of rotting styrofoam cubes covered in tarps.
Don't forget, once our council signs off on this hotel, once they approve the building consents and sign off, the ratepayer essentially owns the liability when things go wrong.
Since we do not even know who the developers are I would say there's going to be plenty of scandal in the near future when this thing tanks in multiple ways. Best case scenario is a massive eye sore. [Abridged]

Closed threads and hotel betting

If bloggers could read and compute on the scanty application documents for 41 Wharf St (in many ways deficient and of little help to the applicant), all submissions and briefs of evidence, as well as attend the hearings - since it seems they haven't registered as submitters - they might raise the level of their contributions and sniping.
We have the incongruous proposed hotel, and the impossibility of its (laughter) saving a city of this size and worth. Let's face it, tourism in a non-resort town like Dunedin remains in the 'second tier' economy. The hotel concept is a flash in the pan.
However, it's the drivers around the application that fascinate, and which the applicant carefully omits from public forums. The 'big' (now silent) players from Queenstown quite possibly stand to gain much more from this game of fortune than Dunedin citizens and businesses.
All up, the city council and chamber of commerce are renowned for positing weak strategies to attract economic development in the southern region. They stand a world apart from the successful private producers, entrepreneurs and established businesses responsible for keeping this city humming on the back of new wealth generated from export receipts. [Abridged]

Not 'our' hotel

I have come to the conclusion that the minority favouring the hotel are suffering from acute amnesia.
They keep asking the same question over and over again, and when someone replies they just ignore the answer and ask all over again or make a statement that has already been countered.
First of all, lets clear this up once and for all. This is not "our" hotel. Group tours from China will not be staying in "our" hotels, they will be staying in the Chinese five-star hotel with attached restaurants, souvenir shops and other services.
Everything inside the hotel will be owned by the hotel and the group tourists will be herded to the hotel owned shops, just as they do in other areas. Read more



Is China the problem?

It doesn't take long to find a comment that mentions something along the lines of 'money going to China' etc.
If you are really that worried about where NZ profits go, do you bank with Kiwibank, or one of the other highest profit earning companies in NZ, almost all of which are Aussie-owned? Is it just the "Chinese" part you have a problem with?
Many of these same people seem to have a problem with creating "minimum wage jobs". Hello? It is mainly unskilled people unemployed at the moment who need these 'step up' type jobs.
BTW the Hotel will generate around 100 jobs, not 50. It will also lead to the employment of possibly dozens more in related service jobs - cuisine, tourist operators, transport, etc. [Abridged]



Are 'you' one of the 'we'?

Cityrise:  Who are the "we" that you are suggesting invest in new innovative business and revitalisation in Dunedin?  Are "you" one of the "we"?  Just asking.
And another point: "today's modern, is tomorrow's heritage". 

What's wrong with 'package' tours?

Challispoint: I'm guessing you arent someone that works within the tourism or retail industry, as your comment regarding a hotel that brings 'package tours' into the city arent good is wrong.
Agreed, they arent as valuable as the FITs (free independent travellers), but package tours still purchase tours with our local activities, book one or two nights accommodatioin in our hotels and spend money in our supermarkets and shops. Not to mention the fact this market tends to come in the off season when its cheaper to travel, at a time our operators and accommodation providers are struggling.
If you speak to any accommodation provider in the city about their recent downturn  they will say they are hurting because this market has dropped off... a market that travels through winter/spring. Not to mention, they pre-book 1-1.5 years in advance so our industry is able to forecast.
Any visitor to this region is a good one, so stop using sweeping generalisations to win your argument. Any and all dollars are valuable to the tourism and retail sectors of this city.[Abridged]

Nice try

Richard2012: No one here is against progress, development or change.
Instead of accusing 100s of concerned citizens maybe the issue is that you should move to Miami or Melbourne or any other cookie cutter big smoke where you would be far more happy.
Denying this building in all it's hideousness is not going to "kill Dunedin". Has it not occurred to you that a Miami-style high rise in a heritage city would damage the atmosphere? People that are desperate to make Dunedin into something it's not are, in my opinion, living in the wrong city.
If I wanted Miami I would move to Miami. Dunedin will be at it's strongest when we invest in new innovative business and revitalisation, not 50 minimum wage hotel jobs for an empty glass tower that funnels money to China. [Abridged]

Development at any cost?

This, and many discussions on this site, tend to be very black and white and seem often to be based on assumptions.

A new $100m hotel which brings thousands of tourists to Dunedin to spend their money, built of entirely local materials and employing only Dunedin people would be a good thing for the city and region.

But a $100m hotel which brings "package" tourists who paid for most things before they left home, built by overseas contractors and employing overseas staff would have little value.

And a $100m hotel aimed at developing sex-tourism in Dunedin (which is what is being built in Auckland) is probably not desirable.

I'm not one for development at any cost and I am pleased I live in a city where we can still debate the value of each proposal openly. It does seem, however, that many of the issues of concern are not detailed in the documentation provided and as a result, much of the discussion is based on assumptions.

The minority

House...... One thing you must realise is those dozen or so people on here complaining about everything are just that, one dozen angry and unhappy residents.

I think you will find that the majority in Dunedin are keen for projects like these to bring Dunedin into the 21st century.


Cityrise's comments betray the level of intelligence, or lack of it, amongst the doomsday merchants that seem to want this city to die by a thousand cuts.

A quarter of of Singapore's entire landmass is composed of many highrises built on reclaimed land, not a problem in this day and age.The new stadium has been built on the old Pelichet Bay inlet.

Maybe the people against this city getting bigger and building bigger buildings should wrap themselves in cotton wool, never take another risk in there lives and move to somewhere like Gore, where nothing changes and the town is actually decreasing in size.

Now that would be a really positive move for this town.

"Change"and "Future"go hand in hand, why can't people grow up and accept that?

Does Dunedin deserve development?

Reading some of the comments here, it seems to me that Dunedin does not want or deserve private development of just about any kind, anywhere.

There are objections about height, purpose, aesthetics, shade, wind, traffic, etc. Yet, no-one has come up with a better plan for that site. People are very keen to say "yes, spend your $100M but how about lower, in a different place, over there, not here, not that colour . . . it's just like the stadium..."

Heck, there has even been anti-Chinese sentiment bandied about and Dunedin has a long history of Chinese citizens.

I just don't get Dunedin. Winge and moan about jobs and opportunities leaving the city, one minute and complain about investment the next? The same thing happened with the oil and gas exploration.

Well, Dunedin gets what it deserves if this project does not go ahead. Continued stagnation. [Abridged]

Not that big?

The reason it seems "not that big" is because every single mockup is provided by Betterways -so of course it's going to be presented as non-invasive.  Their mockups even remove surrounding landscapes, use misleading angles of view, some even make the structure look 90% transparent! etc.  It's textbook marketing manipulation. 

The hotel proposal is an exercise in marketing that has many fooled when it comes to the scale and sheer invasiveness of it.  People will simply not realise this until it' built and they then say, "Oh my God, it didn't seem so overbearing in the brochure!  What have we done!?". 

Also, no cost to the rate payer?  Doubtful.  I have heard local geologists state the land is akin to "weetbix" and absolutely unsafe for such a structure.  So what happens when the council approves building consents on this weetbix, it is built and tragedy follows after a minor or major quake? 

If I were on the council I would also take heed over what happened with the CTV building in CHCH and stay far away from plopping a 96 metre tall building on "weetbix". That is unless they want to be frog marched to prison on national TV when found guilty.


Building height

The height of the proposed hotel is not so tall? You could say that within the context of relativity. You could say a dog is not that big but perhaps to an ant it is as big as things get. Compared to the Empire State building, no, this hotel is not too tall at all, but for Dunedin it is a whole different story. I think it is really important to keep our perspective grounded in Dunedin with all issues relating to this hotel.

Not that big

If this hotel was in the Brisbane CBD or similar then sure it is not that big, but as it is in little old Dunedin, with its delirect warehouse district and crumbling heritge buildings that convert nicely into carparks, and not to forget our wonderful north and south slums. It is the first building of this height so was always going to upset some people, the ones that probably got upset by the big red warehouse or the orange mitre 10.  It is very naive to think that the ratepayers are going to foot some sort of cost if it goes ahead, but would the benefits outweight the costs?  As with the stadium, only time will tell.  PS: I think it would make a great new dental school location! 

Hotel opposition

Just reading some of the peculiar comments from some of those opposed is concern enough at how not building this hotel would be a huge mistake.

Then of course there are those like 'cityrise' who seems to think there is "massive opposition" to the hotel.  Well firstly, you are either very mistaken in what you are hearing, or you are simply making it up.  As I have said in previous posts I have asked almost every person I know over the (now) three weeks about the Hotel, out of approx. 55 people, 1 is against (because of the height), two are not sure, the other 52 are for it.  Yes a small sample size - but across a wide demographic.

It is also interesting to note that while the poll showed more equal results, those opposed were all bragging 'see, look, more are against than in favour', now that a more representative number is shown - and shows more are in favour, they cry 'no, it's fixed'. Pathetic.

As another poster has said, 28 storeys is not particularly tall these days for a modern building.  Or of course we could all just sit and watch the delapidated buildings fall apart over the next few years - and then beg the developers to come back.


House: the definition of 'big' must relate to context. Is the sun big? Next to Betelgeuse it isn't. This building would be small in Manhattan but big in Rome, as it would in many metropolitan cities.  The idea of an industrial building anywhere near this height being built in Dunedin is fantastical in the extreme. The references to P&O and Maersk are ridiculous.


If there was a 28-storey factory with the same dimensions planned there then neither council nor anyone else could object on the basis of height. The developer is quite right to point this out and I think it is the opposing side that need to try and counter this in their argument against it.

The problem is that the argument is specious, as are the counter-examples given by the applicant's lawyer.

The District Plan says that under Industrial Zone 1 there is no height restriction for a building which is not "fanciful".  So your 28 storey factory would be fanciful, as it could not be supported on that site due to dimensional and access restrictions etc.  The applicant's examples of global logistics hubs are equally fanciful as they are not 28-storey buildings.

You can spend as much time as you like coming up with examples, but unless they are actually what someone could and would build there by design, they are fanciful. The counter-example is the Holcim cement towers at the end of Fryatt St, currently the tallest structure in the area.  The towers are necessarily tall by design as part of their function.  They are clearly not fanciful and hence meet the permitted baseline test.

If the applicant had shown one clear example of a non-fanciful 96m industrial building, they might have a chance.  Problem is, most industrial buildings of that type are power plant chimneys, generator housings, Space Shuttle Assembly plants or wireless antenna towers.

Not hotels. 

Building height? It still isn't that big

It seems to me that what the developer is trying to say is that anyone could submit a plan for an industrial building at any height on that site, therefore, the council does not consider the height of any structure on that site to be a problem. If there was a 28-storey factory with the same dimensions planned there then neither council nor anyone else could object on the basis of height. The developer is quite right to point this out and I think it is the opposing side that need to try and counter this in their argument against it.

Somewhere along the line in the past a council has decided that the site of the proposed hotel can have a building of any height. The developer isn't looking at a loophole in pointing this out and are going through a consent process for their activity so I don't quite get what all the fuss is about.

Also, again, this building is not council funded and has the potential to make money and not cost the ratepayer i.e. it is not the stadium. Many people objected to the stadium, including me, on the basis of funding, not the actual stadium itself. There could be another two or three of these hotels built and so long as it stacked up and was fiscally positive for the Dunedin and there was demand for that sort of thing, it should not bother the residents.  It is not as if there is anything else planned for that part of town and there hasn't been for quite some time.

This building isn't very big really and those that think it is really need to get out a bit more.[Abridged]

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