Haydn Staples’ desire for a compilation including oversize buildings fronting Tamaki Drive & 2 backstreets at Mission Bay sets up a confrontation on what the message of Auckland’s 3-year-old unitary plan is about intensification.
Mr Staples’ first company to invest in the Mission Bay waterfront, Drive Holdings (1991) Ltd, sought some intensification through proposals that ran until 2000, when it was replaced by the present owner-cum-developer, Drive Holdings Ltd.
The site now covers 6530m², is almost rectangular and has frontages to Tamaki Drive, the foot of Patteson Avenue and, at the rear, Marau Crescent. It forms most of the Mission Bay local centre as mapped in the unitary plan, which largely came into force in November 2016.
Drive Holdings’ proposal, which went to a hearing that started yesterday, is for 2 basement levels & 7 buildings of varying heights, rising from 3 storeys on Marau Crescent through to 8 storeys on the Tamaki Drive-Patteson Avenue corner, and a gross floor area of 35,120m².
Activities within the complex would include 2920m² of retail (425m² of that on one basement level), a 5-screen cinema complex in the middle, 100 apartments & 266 parking spaces.
Initial proposal was 20 years ago
Mr Haydn’s original company took development proposals to the Auckland City Council 20 years ago but didn’t proceed with them. As his lawyer, Douglas Allan, told the hearing commissioners on the revised project yesterday, the new council’s new unitary plan “is a significant departure from the much more constraining planning provisions introduced by the legacy decisions.
“Key factors are the application to the site of local centre zoning, its zone height standard & the restricted discretionary activity status of applications that exceed that standard.”
Crucially, Mr Allan said, “The focus in the legacy decisions on protecting views across the site, from the escarpment across Marau Crescent, has been discarded in the unitary plan.
“That is true not only for the site but for Mission Bay as a whole, as is apparent from the application of local centre & mixed use zones, with their 16m + 2m (16m occupied, 2m roof form) height standards, across most of the Mission Bay frontage, together with the restricted discretionary activity status of any proposal to exceed those standards.”
Developers have historically tried to extend building envelopes while neighbours, particularly residential, have tried to stop them. What’s different now?
2 planning documents change the context
2 documents dated 2016 – the national policy statement on urban development capacity & Auckland Council’s unitary plan – have changed the planning context from fitting into the neighbourhood to one of enabling intensification now and presuming more intensive development as time goes by.
Mr Allan pointed to the national policy statement, which imposed a series of obligations on councils regarding the provision of sufficient residential & commercial capacity to accommodate future growth, based on an appropriate evidence base.
He noted, in particular, the preamble recorded that councils, through their planning, “are to enable urban environments to grow & change in response to the changing needs of communities & future generations”.
Mr Allan submitted to the hearing commissioners: “Those provisions are forward-looking. They anticipate a dynamic urban environment that is expected to intensify, and hence alter, over time.
“That is contrary to the historic approach in Auckland & much of New Zealand, through which planning was concerned to maintain and avoid effects on historic forms & densities of development, and on existing amenity.
“The national policy statement is reflected in the approach adopted in the unitary plan, and in particular the unitary plan focus on anticipated planning outcomes rather than the physical environment that has been developed to date.”
Proposal designed for future, not to fit past
Mr Allan hammered this point in submissions to establish that Drive Holdings’ development proposal would fit into a more intensive future context, whereas most opponents argued for it to fit into the existing environment: “The unitary plan policy provisions – including the local centre zone provisions – expressly direct parties to focus on the anticipated future outcomes for an area, rather than on maintaining & enhancing existing amenity & the current form & intensity of development.
“Given that almost all development outside industrial zones requires resource consent under the unitary plan, it is critical that the policy alignment is given effect to if the increased development opportunities enabled by the unitary plan rules are to be realised.”
In contrast, he said, “Many of the submissions lodged on the application focus on the effects of the proposal on the existing environment at Mission Bay…
“Those philosophical & rule changes are significant, and the city is yet to fully adjust to the new regime. Over time, the expectations of politicians, planners & members of the public will adjust, and case law is likely to identify the factors that are relevant to the assessment of proposals – particularly those seeking additional height – under the unitary plan.
“At this stage, though, there is no settled understanding as to the basis upon which an application for additional height will be assessed or the relevant principles to be applied. The unitary plan provisions, relevant urban design principles & relevant visual effect issues therefore need to be considered in detail.”
Local board & resident groups seek “complying” transformation, warns against new baselines
Among the doubters whose submissions have been tabled but not yet presented are the Orakei Local Board, the Mission Bay Kohimarama Residents Association and Support Mission Bay.
Board member Troy Churton says in that submission: “The board’s strong view is that the unitary plan offers far more generous development opportunities than the legacy isthmus district plan. The board supports redevelopment of such a significant site as a ‘transformative’ change only if all aspects of the proposals comply with the unitary plan…
“The board is very concerned that 4 of the 7 buildings proposed do not comply with already more generous height maximums, and the applicant seeks to considerably infringe the building height control in places (one by 10.2m to reach 28m, another by 6.4m)….
“The board prefers that ‘compact’ is achieved through complying height development. The board has made similar comments in regards to height-infringing developments at Stonefields & along St Johns Rd, and notes both those proposals were subsequently not granted.”
Mr Churton says the board’s perception is that one infringement will lead to another: “This is the first significant development proposal under this business zone in this area. If the applicant’s logic, for enabling visual effects by allowing infringing height, was granted, the board believes it would create an immediate permitted baseline from which subsequent developer applications would lever from.
“The board believes community wellbeing would not be served if that sort of design approach was tolerated in this or future applications. It would be a precedent risk of enabling noncomplying development to accumulate over time – resulting in area with little regard to the policies of the unitary plan. A precautionary approach is needed for inaugural transformative development.”
Residents’ group: This would dominate, and badly
Planning & resource management advisor David Wren, for the residents’ association, has a contrasting view to Mr Allan’s on what the proposed development would do to the area: It would dominate.
“As the proposed development sits close to front & centre of the bay, height in this location is integral to the overall appreciation & enjoyment of the bay as a whole. The height of parts of the proposed development, over & above that anticipated by the plan, will in my view significantly affect the amenity values of, and create adverse visual effects for all those people, including residents & the public, who experience Mission Bay from its various vantage points.
“It does this by providing a built form that dominates the area, rather than being compatible with development in the area. Many views will be adversely changed and the proposed buildings will appear much more bulky than a complying building & other existing buildings.
“They will also dominate the beach & the associated reserve area.”
Mr Wren also points in his submission to numerous deficiencies he sees in the proposed building design:
- The upper level penthouse is not visually well integrated with the overall design and will tend to stick out from many viewpoints
- The design does not have any real variation in rooftop design to mitigate the overall bulk of the proposed buildings, and thus they will appear bulky & dominating
- The building proposed to be located on the corner of Patteson Avenue & Marau Crescent (building 6) presents somewhat of a blank façade to people approaching from the south (the suburb back from the beach), adding to the barrier effect between the proposal & the suburb
- Beyond the site, existing environment achieves, and the planned future environment anticipates, a relatively low level of development, with maximum heights of 18m or 4-5 storeys, in a manner that provides a uniformity to development; this will be overpowered by buildings much higher than 18m
- It I not necessary to exceed the maximum height provided for in the unitary plan to create a focal point in the sense anticipated by the plan
- A focal point is created by what happens at the ground & first storey levels of any development
- Stepping building heights from 28m to 18m to address adverse visual effects “fails to appropriately mitigate the dominance effects, particularly those that will remain from the higher visual vantage points throughout the suburb and from the coast & harbour
- Where the building does comply with the height rule, eg building 3 north elevation, the additional 2m roof height has not been used to provide variation & interest in the building form when viewed from the street; instead, all the building roof forms are flat or level, with significant areas of planting also extending higher; this failure to provide interest also contributes to the perceived bulkiness of the building
- The public spaces provided by the development are poorly located, will be difficult to access, potentially dangerous & actually quite small.
Mr Wren cites a number of deficiencies he saw in the open space aspects:
- Only a small amount of public area relative to the size of the podium, with little reason to be there other than as an entry to the cinema
- Most podium level space allocated to private residential development
- As the podium is above street level, generally accessible by stairs, access opportunities for the disabled are reduced
- The podium is poorly connected to the street, and doesn’t provide a particularly safe & legible movement network as sight lines are poor – likely to be inconsistent with the Auckland Urban Design Manual
- No public access to the podium from Marau Crescent, and the opportunity to provide a through-site link has been lost
- The podium area will be significantly shaded by the height of the buildings that surround it.
While Mr Allan saw no logic in the maximum for local centre buildings having to be smaller than those up the planning chain in town centres, Mr Wren says the proposed scale “does not reinforce the function of the other centres in the hierarchy”. Other criticisms:
- The relationship between the cinema & adjoining residential apartments has the potential to have reverse sensitivity issues; public access to much of the podium has had to be curtailed to manage such effects
- The residential units fronting Marau Crescent are of an inflexible design that cannot be readily converted to commercial use
- Despite the large scale, the proposal doesn’t provide for significantly more business space
- Other tall buildings along Tamaki Drive aren’t directly comparable because they sit under the cliff faces.
The hearing, before commissioners Janine Bell (chair), David Mead & Michael Parsonson, runs until Friday, with a final session next Wednesday for council officers to respond to matters raised and a reply from the applicant.
13 August 2018: New Urban Partners scheme for Mission Bay a $200 million project
15 February 2010: Drive Holdings faces new council opposition to Mission Bay project
17 April 2009: Panel tells council planners to stop playing internal politics with consent applications
27 March 2009: Commissioners weigh up rules on right to demolish Mission Bay shops
16 March 2009: Mission Bay project hinges on question over permission to demolish