Encroachment policy upsets residents

Ings Ave, St Clair, resident Wayne McFarlane shows with a tape measure how far the Dunedin City...
Ings Ave, St Clair, resident Wayne McFarlane shows with a tape measure how far the Dunedin City Council believes the properties behind him encroach on to council road reserve land. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.

Several Ings Ave, St Clair, homeowners say they are stuck between a hard place and a wall - or should that be fence?

Homeowners Jeannie Coburn and neighbours Sharon McKay and Wayne McFarlane received letters from the Dunedin City Council last month, after selling their properties, informing them their fences and carports encroached on council road reserve by about 1.5m.

The letters said the frontage to their properties had been ''modified to exclude public access'' and that they had the option of buying the council land, applying for a licence to occupy it or removing their fences and carports.

Miss Coburn, who has lived in her house for about four years, said she felt the council had chosen to inform her of the issue after the house sold to pressure her into making a decision which would affect the future occupier.

''They are only advising us when we are in a difficult position,'' she said.

''I feel the DCC have acted in an underhanded manner. They are doing it when people are stressed.''

Mr McFarlane agreed with Miss Coburn and was particularly upset council staff had raised the issue when it had no intention of widening the road.

He felt it was revenue gathering.

''It's just absolutely shocking,'' he said.

''I could understand if they had plans to utilise the land ... but they are not going to widen the road and that's the point.''

Boundary encroachment issues affect about 2000 properties in Dunedin.

About half the properties in Ings Ave are affected as the road reserve widens by about 3m - 1.5m on each side - along the street.

Dunedin City Council transportation policy engineer John Visser told the Otago Daily Times it was a ''historical issue'' as the road was ''laid out that way, but not formed''.

''There's no plans ... to widen it, so the council is quite happy for them to use that space,'' he said.

However, property owners would have to buy it or occupy it legally ''to protect their access to the space''.

Mr Visser denied it was a policy based on revenue and said: ''It's not about the money. It's about access rights to give them what they believe is theirs.''

Current occupiers ''would be charged zero dollars'' and council would only be clarifying the issue for future occupiers, he said.

Mr Visser said council had contacted Miss Coburn, Mr McFarlane and Ms McKay to address the issue during the change of title, as was council policy, and not to pressure them at a stressful time.

Other properties would be addressed as they were sold because ''there's no mad panic to try and fix all of those up''.

''We deal with these as they arise,'' he said.

Miss Coburn said she felt it was ''divide-and-conquer tactics'' and she could not make a decision on behalf of the future occupier.

The least the homeowners would have to pay would be a $50 ''administration fee'' if they chose to apply for a licence to occupy the land, they said.

Miss Coburn said the council should be more lenient considering it was ''only a policy, not a bylaw'' and that all the encroaching properties' fences were in alignment with the non-encroaching properties' fences and built before the current occupiers moved in.

Mr Visser said council did ''use some tolerance''.

''The biggest tolerance we use is the zero dollars for the current occupier.''

When asked what would happen if the owners removed their fences, he said the area would likely be left as grass, at the cost of the landowner.

University of Otago surveying senior lecturer Dr Mick Strack said the property owners needed to be aware of their boundaries and they had no legal right to claim the land they were occupying.

However, if they chose to remove their fences, they had no responsibility to restore the land to pavement or verges, he said.


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