Height, location remain concerns

Dunedin city councillors want plans for a five-star waterfront hotel in the city to be downsized to avoid a second public outcry.

And it appears their views could carry some clout, as Monday's agreement hands them the final say on whether to initiate changes to the district plan needed to build the hotel.

Councillors contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday all backed the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Dunedin City Council and Betterways Advisory Ltd.

However, many were yet to be convinced a hotel resembling the 27-storey tower unveiled nearly two years ago would ever work at 41 Wharf St.

Cr David Benson-Pope was particularly vocal, suggesting the developers, Jing Song, of Queenstown, and husband, Ping Cao, of China, had been ''very badly advised'' and needed to rethink their plans.

The original hotel had been ''entirely inappropriate and an appalling design and in the wrong place'', he said.

He hoped Monday's agreement would lead to a ''more flexible approach'', including consideration of a smaller building on a new site. He also hoped changes to the district plan could be avoided, fearing that would encourage public opposition.

His comments came after Betterways director Steve Rodgers on Monday conceded mistakes had been made, but also said the hotel had been ''too big an idea'' at the time.

He said the focus remained on the company's existing site, but reducing the hotel's height was ''on the table''.

Cr Richard Thomson yesterday warned the preferred site still faced ''significant difficulties''.

''Personally, I think there are some other sites that would be better. I would really like to see those being examined.''

Cr Neville Peat backed the agreement despite initial reservations, hoping it would ''clear the air'' between the parties, but remained concerned about height and location.

It was a sentiment echoed by Cr Kate Wilson, who said ''substantial'' hurdles remained to be overcome, while Cr Mike Lord believed the agreement was a ''show of good faith''.

Deputy mayor Chris Staynes said both sides would now have a chance to discuss the project ''the way perhaps it should have been done in the first instance''.

However, height remained an issue ''for pretty much everyone'', unless the new design was an ''iconic'' structure that provided ''a statement on our skyline''.

Cr Aaron Hawkins stressed the agreement was to talk about a hotel, ''not the hotel as originally proposed''.

''It's going to need to look significantly different,'' he said.

Crs Andrew Whiley, Doug Hall and Hilary Calvert also spoke in support of the agreement, as did Cr John Bezett, who said the need for a five-star hotel in the city remained clear but a ''clever design'' was needed.

Cr Lee Vandervis was opposed to spending more public money trying to ''make the shoe fit'' at the proposed site, and wanted another location considered.

Cr Andrew Noone declined to comment.

Their comments came as a copy of the agreement, released to media, showed councillors would vote on whether to initiate the plan change process.

Councillors could still vote not to do so, even if council staff and a new urban design panel endorsed the project, but that would come at a cost.

A clause stipulated the council would then have to cover all costs accrued by Betterways since the signing of the agreement, although councillors spoken to yesterday said that was unlikely.

Either side could opt to quit the agreement at earlier stages, without financial penalty, the agreement outlined.

Nevertheless, the council would face other costs as a result of the agreement, including paying panel members, which it was estimated could cost up to $50,000, and the as-yet-unknown cost of consultants.

The council would be primarily responsible for addressing pedestrian ''connectivity'', including the cost of a pedestrian bridge linking the inner-city and waterfront, the agreement said.

Betterways and the council would agree to share bridge costs if it also linked to the hotel, but how much was not yet known.

Betterways had unveiled uncosted bridge drawings in 2012, which could yet form the basis of future plans, while the council had scrapped plans for a ''landmark'' bridge, costing up to $3.5 million, the previous year.

Mr Cull told media on Monday a bridge in the area was still ''very desirable'', with or without a hotel, and other costs remained ''a bargain'' compared with the possible $300,000 cost of an Environment Court appeal.


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