Developer to appeal demo decision

STAYING PUT: The Harcourts building on Lambton Quay has too much heritage to be knocked down,  commissioners say.
STAYING PUT: The Harcourts building on Lambton Quay has too much heritage to be knocked down, commissioners say.

Wellington developer Mark Dunajtschik is looking to appeal the ruling that he cannot demolish the heritage-listed Harcourts building on Lambton Quay.

A three-member panel of planning commissioners appointed by Wellington City Council has rejected his application, saying demolition of the 85-year-old building would be inconsistent with regional heritage policy.

They said it was an important building, it exceeded requirements for public safety and all reasonable solutions for retaining the building had not been considered.

Mr Dunajtschik, who said it was not economically viable to strengthen the eight-storey block to 100 per cent of new building standard, applied to demolish it so he could put up a new 25-storey block on the site.

He said he offered to contribute more than $1 million to a heritage fund to strengthen other city buildings and also offered to completely replicate the building's facade in lightweight material.

After both were rejected by the Historic Places Trust he applied for consent to demolish.

Mr Dunajtschik said he had three weeks to decide whether to appeal. He said he would, "just to have a foot in the door".

"In the meantime I have to have a lot of consultation before I spend another $150,000 because that is what it has cost me to come to this point.''

It could then take another six months or a year before it went to the Environment Court.

''If it was quick I would probably be more inclined to do it, but if it's a long time away I could flag it.''

The only option then would be to leave the building standing and  ''If we have an earthquake in the next 15 years, God help the people on the footpath ... it will be a disaster and it won't be on my conscience because I tried.''

When he bought the building 14 years ago he knew it was heritage listed, but its  economic viability had changed drastically since the Christchurch earthquakes because tenants were now much more concerned about seismic risk.

The now-vacant building's value had crashed from $20m to $10m in the latest rating valuations, and there had been no takers when he offered to sell it for $10m.

Mr Dunajtschik said his proposals offered  ''win-win'' for the city but everything was now stalemated.

At the moment there were just 15 people working in the Harcourts building. A new building on the site would provide for up to 750 people on Lambton Quay.

And his offer to contribute more than $1m to a heritage fund could have been used to strengthen a whole lot of buildings in Cuba St, said Mr Dunajtschik.

Act Party leader John Banks said the denial of permission to demolish an uneconomic building highlighted the costly and unfair burden posed by the Resource Management Act.

"I support protecting heritage buildings but councils should do that by working with property owners and coming to a voluntary arrangement, not by putting them in an impossible position.

"If government - local or central - wants to dictate what a building can be used for, it should either buy the building under the Public Works Act or compensate the owner for losses they suffer as a result of not being able to upgrade their property, said Mr Banks.

Contact Hank Schouten
Property reporter

The Dominion Post