City hotel proposal 'hard to improve'

A graphic of what the Dunedin Hotel may look like if built. Photo supplied.
A graphic of what the Dunedin Hotel may look like if built. Photo supplied.
Dunedin's proposed $100 million waterfront hotel would offer a ''grandstand view'' of the city, and become one of New Zealand's most spectacular venues in the process, if it is built, a Dunedin architect says.

The endorsement came from Francis Whitaker, of Mason and Wales Architects Ltd, on the second day of a resource consent hearing to decide whether the proposed 28-storey tower can be built.

Mr Whitaker, giving evidence for Betterways Advisory Ltd, the company seeking to build the hotel, said he did not think Dunedin people quite realised the quality of the hotel being considered.

''This city hotel may be unparalleled in New Zealand,'' he told the hearing committee.

As evidence, he pointed to ''astonishing'' views of the city and harbour from the hotel's banquet hall, reception area and a level two swimming pool, which would look out over the harbour from behind a glass wall.

Apartments and hotel rooms would also enjoy an ''outstanding outlook'' over the city or waterfront, and ''will, in effect, showcase the city of Dunedin''.

So, too, would the rooftop restaurant, bar and gardens, which meant the roof was ''likely to be one of New Zealand's most spectacular venues''.

The 28-storey tower had attracted 507 submissions - 457 of them opposed - with most critics worried about the building's height, visual dominance and impact on nearby heritage buildings.

Yesterday's session was to hear from the first speakers opposed to the hotel, but evidence from Betterways' experts took longer than expected, meaning that would now begin today.

Instead, Mr Whitaker's evidence in favour of the hotel dominated much of yesterday's session.

He argued the hotel could work alongside older buildings, as was the case within the University of Otago campus, the Information Services Building being an example. The hotel's height was ''not inappropriate'', and if properly constructed, would make ''a strong contribution to the architecture and amenity of the city''.

It would also help ''book-end'' the central city's southern fringe, balancing Forsyth Barr Stadium to the north, and a new pedestrian overbridge, if built, would help re-establish the city's link to its waterfront.

However, the hotel's design needed to be ''excellent'' and he supported referring the final design to a council-appointed panel of experts for approval.

The key was whether the final design made the hotel an asset, or an eyesore.

''It has to be a good building ... If the current concept is developed to the high standard that the design promises, a worthy building will eventuate."

Asked by independent commissioner John Lumsden if he found anything negative about the proposal, Mr Whitaker said there was little to dislike.

However, he acknowledged that, in a city Dunedin's size, ''you start to form a view and have opinions''.

He had been invited to give evidence for Betterways after expressing those views, but his company did not stand to benefit from the project.

''My views were formed around whether this can be good for Dunedin ... I think it delivers a huge bang for your buck, which is very hard to improve."

Betterways director Steve Rodgers later said Mr Whitaker had been given no guidance or brief for his evidence.

Mr Whitaker also denied the building would destroy views, saying it would instead become ''an element within the landscape'', although Mr Lumsden said ''quite a few'' submitters would disagree.

Consultant planner Don Anderson, who prepared Betterways' consent application, told the committee the hotel met the requirements of the Resource Management Act, as there were no height limits for a building on the industrial site at 41 Wharf St.

Some views would be lost because of the hotel, but views were not guaranteed by the district plan, and neither were shading effects arising from the hotel, he said.

He also said plans for a new pedestrian bridge - crossing the railway line beside the hotel - would have been included in Betterways' consent application, if the company was in a position to do so.

However, the involvement of other landowning parties - KiwiRail and the council - made that impossible, he said.

''We can only deal with the land we have control over ... but we realise the importance of it."

Asked if the company could give an undertaking to pay for the bridge, should the hotel be approved, Mr Rodgers said he could not, as design and cost details for the bridge were not yet known.

However, he was ''very keen'' to discuss the proposal with other parties, as it would ''certainly solve all the problems'', and initial talks with council staff had already begun, although no ''deals'' had been cut.

Betterways' solicitor, Phil Page, also suggested council staff might - through their reports - be trying to force the company to fund the overbridge through the consent process, which was ''understandable'' but ''not lawful''.

The committee should grant consent for the hotel ''in the full knowledge ... you are making the bridge much more likely'', he said.

Yesterday's session also featured detailed questioning of transport engineer Andy Carr, appearing for Betterways, about the possible impact of extra traffic from the hotel on the surrounding roading network.

He suggested unfunded council plans to add traffic signals at the intersection of Wharf and Fryatt Sts might need to be brought forward to help guests cross Wharf St to the waterfront - the cost of which the hotel's developers might contribute to, Mr Rodgers indicated. The hearing continues today.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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