Lodge’s fate sealed as Thiel appeal fails

Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel
Billionaire Peter Thiel’s proposed luxury lodge near Wānaka has been rejected again.

The Environment Court yesterday declined the appeal by Thiel company Second Star Ltd of a Queenstown Lakes District Council consenting panel’s decision in 2022 to refuse resource consent for the lodge.

The court also criticised the council’s stance on the appeal, saying it breached a duty to be "fair and fully transparent" by holding meetings with Second Star without informing the parties opposing the appeal.

Second Star hoped to develop the four-building, grass-roofed complex, designed to accommodate up to 30 guests, on a Damper Bay site about 7km from the Wānaka town centre.

The 193ha site sits within two outstanding natural landscape (ONL) areas.

In the decision, which followed a two-day hearing in Queenstown in March, Judge Prudence Steven and commissioner Mark Mabin said the lodge’s design was "attractive and responsive to its setting".

However, its glazing would stretch "nearly the length of two football fields" across the site, introducing "straight lines into a landscape that does not have them at present".

The proposal failed the district plan’s test for development in ONLs, which required it be "reasonably difficult to see" from outside the site’s boundary.

Planned planting would not adequately screen the buildings from some viewpoints on a nearby public trail.

The appeal was opposed by the Upper Clutha Environmental Society and the Longview Environmental Trust, which participated in March’s hearing as interested parties.

However, the council claimed at the hearing it had a neutral position on the proposal.

Judge Steven and commissioner Mr Mabin said they found that position "troubling" given the council presented planning and landscape evidence that openly supported the applicant’s case.

"The council took an active and supportive approach of the appellant’s position in court and was hardly neutral."

Further, a council officer had held meetings with the company to discuss how amendments to the proposal could enable consent to be granted.

The discussions had occurred without the involvement or knowledge of the interested parties, which breached the council’s duty to be "fair and fully transparent" to all parties.

Upper Clutha Environmental Society president Julian Haworth said the "sensible" judgement had exposed the council’s stance as a "shambles".

"They clearly, cravenly decided not to defend it, and then went witness-shopping for someone to support it.

"The council has a duty to implement the district plan, and it’s failing in that duty."

Mr Haworth said it was expensive and "exhausting" for groups like the Upper Clutha Environmental Society to fill the breach.

The council was mistaken if it thought it could save ratepayers’ money by waving through contentious proposals.

"If you defend decisions, people won’t come forward in the future with stupid applications."

A council spokeswoman said it would make a statement on the decision next week.