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The Otago Racing Club says if it does not get consent to subdivide for a row of houses along Gladstone Rd North at Wingatui, it could build a row of large, potentially brightly lit, noisy and smelly corrugated iron-clad horse barns there instead.
''They wouldn't be that attractive,'' the racing club's planner, Allan Cubitt, yesterday told a panel considering the consent.
It was not saying it would, just that it could because that sort of thing was permitted in a rural zone, he said.
Residents said they did not appreciate the ''thinly veiled threat'' and it made no sense, when the club said on the one hand the land was of no use to it other than for subdivision and on the other that it would use it for horse stalls that would actually be located inconveniently.
The racing club has applied to the council to subdivide the Gladstone Rd North frontage of the Wingatui racecourse into 11 lots to raise capital to develop course facilities.
The proposal was not about making money to secure the club's financial future, Mr Cubitt said. The club was not in financial difficulty, as suggested by some submitters.
''It is all about enhancing the site to become a centre of excellence for a legitimate rural activity - that of training race horses ... and ensuring the future of the racecourse, which is of strategic importance to New Zealand racing industry, is further secured and developed.''
The club, to date, had kept away from developing the road frontage with horse stalls or similar, out of regard for its neighbours.
The racing club's lawyer, Phil Page, said the context of the application - specifically its part in the club's plans to secure the future of a local industry many relied on - was ''everything'' in this case.
The rural zone no longer fitted the environment that had grown up in some parts of it and neither Wingatui, nor the racecourse at its centre, was truly rural any more, he said.
''The use of the land has to change. It's this or something else, and this was what the club thought would be of the most benefit to the residential area of the place.''
Landscape architect for the club, Michael Moore, said the rural character of the area was already ''weakly expressed''.
Plans to keep trees and hedges and undertake additional planting would retain the country lane character of Gladstone Rd North and mitigate the effect of housing, while the houses would be ''tucked down'' below the main focus of residents' views.
But residents strongly disagreed with them all.
David Wade, an architectural draftsman and lecturer at the Otago Polytechnic, said the proposal would have an ''irreversible'' impact on Wingatui's amenity and environment.
Like many opponents to the proposal, he said he bought his house because he was confident the rural zoning in the district plan would protect the area under consideration from further residential development.
He presented images showing what the housing could look like and said existing trees would provide little screening in winter and not much more in summer, as lower branches were sparse.
David Guard said he was ''quite dismayed'' to find only some weeks after moving in, after being satisfied the area in front of his house was zoned rural, that he was faced with a ''full-scale subdivision'' that would ''obliterate'' his view.
He had no regard for the club's ''thinly veiled threat'' of horse barns, he said.
''I fail to see how piles of sawdust, horse dung and iron cladding fits with their own strategic plan.''
Caroline Hunter said she did not believe her rural view was ''weakly expressed'', but did believe it would be profoundly spoiled by urban development.
''The thought of looking at what could be a row of beige McMansions just really doesn't appeal.''
Michael McNulty said the houses would be metres from his home and he would never be able to get away from them, while Wingatui Community Hall Society treasurer Peter Wilson said he was concerned allowing it would set a precedent.
''The entire countryside of Wingatui will be gone and, once gone, it will be gone forever.
''We'd love to see the racecourse a centre for excellence. However, we don't think it should be at the cost of the residents of Wingatui.''
The panel hearing was adjourned for a site visit at a later date.