Cohousing project goes to hearing

Cohousing is a new concept for Dunedin and one people should be excited about, not worried about, supporters say.

Cohousing was not ''some vague co-operative housing project'', a commune or social housing, said Catherine Spencer, a director and shareholder of Urban Cohousing Otepoti Ltd (Ucol), which has applied for consent for a 26-house development on the former High St school site.

It was simply a sustainable way to live in a world where people faced increasing economic, social and environmental challenges, she said, explaining the concept to a hearing committee of Crs Andrew Noone, Kate Wilson and David Benson-Pope.

City planners recommended that consent for the high-density project be granted, but some neighbours had concerns about the effects of the number of houses and their design and size, the committee heard yesterday.

Dunedin city council planner Lianne Darby said the project was not simply a consent application for an over-dense residential activity, because the number of houses was instrumental to it being a success.

Council transport, water and urban design staff had no major issues with the project, although the council's landscape architect would like some of the mature trees on the site's perimeter retained, she said.

Historic elements on site would stay, while the street facades matched the scale of surrounding houses and were a ''modern interpretation'' of historic buildings in the area, she said.

Thirty-three car parks would be provided on and off-site, with some also available for non-residents, although some residents were likely to favour public transport and walking.

About half a dozen of 54 submitters on the application - the bulk of whom were supportive - spoke at the hearing.

Supporters told the committee the project was exciting and would have social and environmental benefits for those living there, including inclusiveness, strong support systems, economies of scale and warmer homes.

However, Warwick and Jennifer Duncan, who lived near the site, said they worried about the potential effect of high-density housing on peace, privacy and house values in the area. Their worries were shared by other opponents.

They were also concerned about the ''quite fortress-like'' look of the plans and, despite attending several project meetings, remained unconvinced about the long-term viability of the concept.

Dr Duncan said he wanted to see robust checks and balances to ensure that once the strong leadership in place now was gone, the development would not go in ''another direction''.

Earlier, Cr Noone asked how the community would differ from a gated community and Cr Wilson asked what would stop the development being taken over in the future by others, such as a religious group, a gang or a cult.

Cr Benson-Pope said he was not sure the committee needed to take that into account, given its job was to assess the environmental effects of the proposal, particularly its non-complying density, height and set-back issues, but senior planner Phil Marshall advised the two aspects were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Ucol shareholder Kristin Jack said it would not be an insular community. It would involve a mix of members, with those already interested including doctors, nurses, architects, a church minister and information technology professionals.

Many would remain involved in a range of wider community sustainability projects and none were driven by any ideology other than a vision of social and environmental sustainability.

Residents in a cohousing community committed to a set of agreed rules and a consensus decision-making process - including communal selection of residents, he said.

That would retain the philosophy of the community over time and prevent it being taken over by an outside faction.

''We believe this cohousing project, located on this near perfect inner-city site, is going to be an asset that adds greatly to the social and physical capital and fabric of Dunedin.''

The committee has adjourned and will visit the site before making its decision.

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