Published 3 October 2006
It was an unusual urban design panel hearing, one which neither side wanted to attend but which both had an obligation to be at.
Housing NZ Corp was obliged to submit its proposal to the Auckland City Council urban design panel because of the number of units it proposed to build & relocate in a resubdividing of 8700mÂ² around a Mt Roskill cul-de-sac.
But the corporation didn’t have to act on any panel recommendations. If it didn’t like them â€“ and it didn’t like some â€“ it could change the consent application, applying for a handful at a time and thereby avoiding the whole design panel & consent notification process by having a complying development.
As Housing NZ is a frequent applicant for consents, the council could hit back by making the process bumpier for other applications. But that would be action by a different section of the council and would, in any case, be self-defeating, because Housing NZ is generally trying to upgrade housing stock.
So the panellists made their comments, got a clear signal that the corporation wasn’t about to change anything, and the parties went their separate ways.
The consent application (& proposal before the panel) covered 14 titles around Bremner Avenue in Mt Roskill and Baxter St, a cul-de-sac off it. The redevelopment proposal involves new titles, some relocation, some repositioning on the same site, and a total of 20 homes.
It also involves the removal of 12 trees, some of them large specimens, construction of fences above retaining walls giving a total height of up to 3m on the down side, and creation of short rights of way which will have 1.8m fences on both sides.
There was a divergence of opinion between Housing NZ project management experience and panellists with expertise, but not the same expertise. The panel put out a critical minute which Housing NZ is in a position to disregard.
Housing NZ project development manager Priscilla Kingi put it this way: “The scheme didn’t change (from the first hearing to the second). That’s because we were happy with the scheme to begin with. We’ve come back with the same scheme, with the additional information (requested).”
The Baxter St proposal first went to the panel in May. After that session, the panel said there was insufficient information to review the proposal. It wanted to see a comprehensive overall site plan showing:
Â· the houses
Â· trees to be retained or removed
Â· vehicular & pedestrian routes
Â· excavated building platforms and retaining walls in relation to existing land contours
Â· fences, their heights & design, and
Â· proposed public space & private outdoor space, including paving & planting.
The panel also said it wanted to see:
Â· outdoor covered space (chiefly verandahs) in relation to the living areas & private gardens
Â· the way public areas are paved to slow traffic in areas shared by pedestrians, and
Â· inclusion of some 2-storey homes to reduce site coverage by buildings in favour of more open space.
Housing NZ consultant Mike Stott, of Lysaght Consultants Ltd, responded with more detail but added that Housing NZ had considered the matters raised but didn’t believe implementing them was suitable for this development.
Mr Stott said the panellists appeared to have made a distinction in May between private & shared driveways, a distinction the district plan didn’t make. The panel had suggested lighting & a demarcated pedestrian route (such as roughened paving) along the shared driveway. Mr Stott said an appropriately placed security light on the dwellings should be adequate, but this would be at the discretion of the tenant & landowner. On provision for pedestrians, he said statistics didn’t differentiate, as the panel had, between shared & private driveways â€“ and, if anything, indicated private driveways were more dangerous.
At this point, it’s worth noting the seating arrangement for the September meeting. Both the application team and 3 of the 4 panellists sat along one side of the room, panel chairman Gordon Moller sat at the end of the table arrangement and 2 council staff sat opposite the 2 teams. Many of the comments made by one team couldn’t be heard properly by the other. They couldn’t read body language. They might as well have been on the phone.
Housing NZ designates the pedestrian track along a standard 3m-wide right-of-way with a different colour of concrete. In the illustrations, it was a narrow strip beside a 1.8m fence â€“ the least likely place, I thought, for any small boy or large adult to walk, unless they were drawing on the fence as they went. Roughened surfaces would probably not be the first choice of surface by a child in bare feet. And leaving the adequacy of lighting to landlord & tenant? A dark driveway between high fences can be spooky. Why spook people first, make sensible provision later?
Ms Kingi said of the roughened surface: “We haven’t proposed it here.” There was no explanation.
Trees to be removed include mature avocadoes, which aren’t a protected species. Replacements will be 1.5m trees, which panelist Mark Townsend thought were too small: “If it’s a kowhai or lancewood, they’ll just disappear.” Having a mature tree in place when you plant a new house would, I suppose, save the anguish many Aucklanders experience of being refused council permission to prune or remove trees which have outgrown their space â€“ a policy which accords trees a right to life beyond the whims of suburban decoration.
Panellist John Dobrowolski suggested making open areas of the enclave more shared, because it’s a cluster of dwellings, but Mr Stott said the 1.8m fences were required under the district plan to screen private areas. “In practice, what goes on the boundary becomes negotiable. It’s quite intensive, with 2 dwellings on each side.”
And Ms Kingi added: “Most private owners want a 1.8m fence on their boundary with Housing NZ. If we change those fences we’ll speak to them.”
Given the Housing NZ position, Mr Moller said: “Anything over 8 units comes to the pane, but I really question what value you think there is in coming to the panel at all. Recommendations are a complete waste of time.”
Ms Kingi: “We do have our own internal designer & architectâ€¦. We could have treated this application a little bit differently, split it up and ad several applications coming through. But this (the application before the panel, unchanged) is what we want to do here.”
Mr Moller: “I grew up in an era of state housing and there was scorched-earth housing. Many suburbs have become habitable spaces because people have planted trees. Some of them (in this development) might not be appropriate and 12 are going. You’re replacing them but it will take 10 years before they become pleasing places. It just seems a great shame to me that these trees are going. To get the yield on the land you have to remove them?”
Ms Kingi: “That’s right.”
Mr Moller: I think it’s a huge backward step, but what can we say as a panel? Not very much.”
Among suggestion were verandahs so children have somewhere outside to play in Auckland’s frequent rain, recycling water, passive solar gain and design changes to meet privacy concerns: “Sometimes the houses line up close, but if there’s not a vertical issue you don’t have a privacy problem. It’s happening in central Auckland â€“ people are putting up high fences, but it’s not good for the public realm.”
Mr Moller was also surprised Housing NZ hadn’t consulted neighbours “in a realm where consultation is rife”.
Ms Kingi: “We don’t consult on all projects. 9 times out of 10 that’s because we know what the reaction will be. They don’t want Housing NZ next to them.”
In its September recommendations, the panel said it remained concerned about the extent of excavations “and in particular the cuts to the boundaries of adjacent properties.” Some of these had retaining walls which the panel thought were higher than the stated 1.2m, topped by fences which the panel thought should be reduced in height.
And, the panel reiterated, “the access ways do not demonstrate good urban design principles”.
Attribution: Panel hearing & agenda, story written by Bob Dey for this website.