Small lifestyle blocks OK
Rodney District Council’s bureaucracy has a set of rules designed to keep the countryside immediately north of Auckland from turning into a spread-eagled city extension, but the game gets hard to referee when individual planning applications are considered.
Rodney has been fighting a rearguard action against the increasing desire of Aucklanders to have their 10-acre (4ha) piece of paradise, a bit of bush, a couple of sheep and, after not too long, a hectare or two split off for sale.
The council’s resource consents committee had two rural subdivision applications before it this week, one at Waimauku creating a third rural residential lot out of two titles covering 14.9ha, and the other an application to chop 1ha off a 4.46ha Kumeu property, with 2.25ha of the larger site covenanted as “bush.”
Subdivision was allowed some years ago on the Waimauku property but the permit lapsed. On the two existing titles, the owners were allowed a main home plus a minor residential unit. The councillors decided the property owners could have their subdivision into lots of 6.97ha, 4.27ha and 3.03ha, but with no minor residential units on any of them.
They also decided to allow the 1ha subdivision at Kumeu, also with no minor residential units on either title, after figuring it would not affect the productive potential of a property without much productive potential.
The Waimauku subdivision doesn’t comply with the existing Rodney district plan or its proposed plan change 55, which forbids subdivision below 20ha within the general rural activity area. The extra 3ha lot is also bigger than the council’s rural residential yardstick, which says they should be between 1ha and 2ha.
Rodney’s existing rural controls are all about food production, but lower-quality land can be subdivided for rural residential use. The proposed plan change still emphasises the maintenance of rural character and limits on subdivision “to maintain the long-term value of the land resource for productive farming purposes.”
Council staff found the 3ha lot beside the Waikoukou Stream was largely of a low productive capacity, the building site was well screened and the council would get a 7000mÂ² esplanade reserve in native bush.
The owners of the other site said their land was not productive when they bought it five years ago, but they had cleared some to plant an orchard and for grazing. They wanted to leave the rest as a native bush sanctuary, plus some swamp, and said if the bush was removed erosion would cause silting of the two watercourses at the bottom of the property.
The bush area is steep, and they had originally applied to subdivide under plan change 55’s bush lot provisions, but lost out because the canopy was too low.
Council staff wanted the subdivision rejected, concerned at the potential cumulative effects of allowing subdivision of what was already a small rural holding.
Council planner Barry MacDonell said : “It is considered that the cumulative effects of allowing rural-residential subdivisions in the general rural activity area are likely to be significant, as this will result in a significant degradation of the productive capacity of rural land and the character of these rural areas.”
He also raised the “reverse sensitivity” issue that could arise from establishing small lifestyle blocks in mostly farming or horticultural neighbourhoods, such as conflicts over spraying and machinery noise. “This reverse sensitivity issue has the ability to adversely affect and potentially limit the economic viability of permitted rural land uses. It is important to note that council has provided for rural-residential development elsewhere in the district.”
One argument in favour of the Kumeu subdivision was that “we don’t have Waipoua Forest on the property, but we feel we’re unique in the area. It’s all very well to say, ‘Let’s have lots of productivity growth, but having a few bush blocks in the middle of the productive area is valuable.'”
Councillors accepted staff warnings that attempts to subdivide, by splitting ownership of a property’s main dwelling and its minor residential unit, were becoming more common. In these cases the extra unit on each title was disallowed.