Businesses fear being driven out of area

Dunedin’s waterfront industrial and port area, showing the locations of proposed apartments in the Loan and Mercantile Building and surrounding companies that oppose the plans. It is a choice between buildings and jobs, a panel considering whether to allow apartments in a heritage building in Dunedin's waterfront industrial area has been told.

The district plan had already made the choice for them, lawyer Phil Page also said, because it said there could not be incompatible activities in the same area.

Previous councillor panels had held fast to the plan's underlying principles of separating activities, he said, first in withdrawing most of the proposed harbourside zone and then in declining consent for a $100 million waterfront hotel in Wharf St because it was a non-industrial activity in an industrial zone.

And the hotel's developers had had more hope than the Loan and Mercantile building's because they already had consent to use the hotel site for another non-complying activity and it had a degree of separation from the industrial area the Loan and Mercantile did not.

Mr Page was representing Kaan's Catering Supplies, Farra Engineering and the Otago Chamber of Commerce, who all oppose an application from Russell Lund to redevelop the empty building, which he believes has no other viable economic use, into 24 apartments.

His clients agreed it was good to save heritage buildings, Mr Page said, but the fact the Loan and Mercantile building was listed was not something the panel of Crs Andrew Noone, David Benson-Pope and Lee Vandervis could consider, as the district plan did not treat heritage status as an exemption from policy to separate incompatible activities.

''There is a major policy confrontation at play here. On the one hand there is value in the restoration and reuse of heritage buildings. On the other hand, there is the undoubted value in vibrant and efficient industrial heart of the city that is a major employer ...''

The three opponents were members of the ''tight five'' that lobbied successfully against the proposed harbourside zone in the late-2000s, over the same concerns industry now has about Mr Lund's proposal.

The companies and the chamber, which chief executive John Christie said was representing the interests of companies in the area that did not want to be named (but he later conceded he was not acting on the resolution of the entire chamber), join steel foundry operator Esco in opposing the project because they believe opening the door to residential activity in the area would, ultimately, squeeze them out.

The issues they envisage include complaints about noise and smells, issues with parking and traffic, precedent (there are 17 listed heritage buildings in the area) and gradual increases in rents and land values.

The relocation of industrial businesses was a documented expected result of the harbourside zone proposal, they noted.

Although Mr Lund has agreed to noise mitigation measures including a no-noise covenant for the apartments, which appeases another neighbour, Port Otago, the companies say they do not think a covenant would work in practice because complaints would continue despite it, they would feel morally obliged to respond, it would not stop visitors complaining and residents could still oppose future applications for consent to expand or change emissions levels etc.

That would change their work environment, eventually making it unworkable.

Mr Christie said the proposal was exactly what the chamber fought in the harbourside proposal. It supported the waterfront hotel proposal because businesses had less issue with it and it was a short-stay endeavour, he said.

Farra chief executive John Whitaker said the companies' concerns were real and serious.

''In cities all over the world, we have watched our colleagues get squeezed out by the trendy downtown apartment set, either by their spending power (rent competition) or through direct conflict. One rational strategy for managing that risk is to move. After 150 years in Dunedin, we don't want to do that.''

Kaan's owner Lindsay Kaan said a consented flat beside his business was ''disastrous''. There was continual conflict with tenants over the company's ''antisocial'' behaviour (it operated 24-7), parking, noise and people climbing on the business' roof.

''In the day-to-day battle of trying to get along with these people, I doubt nice legal agreements about who can complain about what would really make any difference.

''Although I could live with just this one, I have got to draw a line in the sand, or my place will be next.

''That is what the [harbourside proposal] appeals were all about and why we fought so hard. We let the south side of the basin go to save the north side. Do we have to have that fight again?''The hearing will be reconvened at a later date, when council planners will respond to submissions and Mr Lund will have right of reply.

Harbour development

The recent debate about harbourside development has been emotional but extremely important and enlightening. I have learned a lot about the challenges facing the businesses who are currently located in the area. This is not an easy fix but simply rejecting proposals for development is not an option anymore. No doubt there are key people with a lot of knowledge and perhaps some planners who have ideas on what solutions are available. If new "policies" need to be developed then it should be discussed, debated and enacted - rules and policies change. Dunedin is not the first harbour city to face this problem nor will it be the last. It would be a shame to lose Mr. Lund's building and if people are willing to sign an agreement about noise then let them.

Losing the hotel was a major loss to Dunedin (few people realise how many conferences the city loses out on simply because we do not have enough hotel rooms of a high enough standard). Ultimately, there is a limited supply of land around the harbour and any new businesses would need to locate elsewhere - where is the plan - the industrial and commercial park for Dunedin? It is inevitable that the harbourfront will change - savvy overseas investors are currently focused on Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown but at some point they will discover Dunedin's amazing potential - why not develop a long term plan and market the opportunity?

Doing the city a favour

I have been trying to follow this story and I admit, I don't understand all the details of the problems with mixed-use zoning and noise mitigation. I can only say that when I first read that this mercantile building was being renovated, I was thrilled as I must go by this eyesore almost daily. It has long dawned on me that it could look beautiful and enhance the waterfront instead of detract from it. City visitors must also look upon this eyesore, so the developer would be doing the city a favour.

When I read that it would be turned into apartments, I thought how I wouldn't want to live by a busy roadway, but some people are not bothered by noise or such commotion, so if the developer could find such potential tenants, well, then great! I once knew a couple who lived next to a busy railroad. I was stunned that they didn't even noticed when a loud train rumbled by. When I asked about it, they told me they hardly noticed anymore. I suppose it must be like Rotorua residents getting use to the pungent sulfur odors.

I don't understand why businesses see this development as opening floodgates for a residential takeover of their area. Why can't the city just re-write their plan to allow this minor exception so that the needs of all parties can be met? What a bureacratic muddle! I think it quite wrong that developers who seek to renovate heritage properties should be so impeded in their efforts. When I describe Dunedin to those who've not been here, I always have to tell them that part of the city centre is marred by an ugly industrial waterfront and the mercantile building in its current state is definitely part of that ugliness. It could reflect charm instead.

As for mitigating the noise. You can find some of the smartest people in New Zealand working at the University of Otago. You can't tell me someone there can't come up with some innovative ideas for reducing noise impact for residents. How about triple pane glazing, beefed-up insulation, or setting bedrooms back from the street? Obviously, I haven't a clue, but there's surely an expert out there who can help.

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