Residents of Boulcott, Lower Hutt, fear an application to build five retirement townhouses is the thin end of a wedge leading to tower blocks in their backyards.
Retirement village developer Summerset bought a 3.3-hectare slice of former golf club land in Boulcott last year, planning to build 217 units and townhouses.
Residents and neighbouring Boulcott School strongly opposed the designs, which included five big blocks of flats, one five storeys high.
Opposition and geotechnical difficulties prompted Summerset to revise the development to four four-storey blocks of flats, a three-storey rest home, and dozens of townhouses. It planned to spend about $100 million on the site.
A land zoning change would be required for the full development to proceed, but the old golf course car park at 14 Hathaway Ave was zoned residential, and Summerset had applied to build five townhouses there.
A 122-member residents' group, Boulcott Preservation Society, worried that the townhouses would smooth Summerset's way to approval for the whole development.
"I think they're trying to soften up the neighbours, because it's nowhere near as dramatic as stage two," said Catherine Ross, a Hathaway Ave resident and member of Boulcott School's board.
"They're presenting it as different from the rest of the development. We think they should be considered together."
Residents were not opposed to a retirement village in Boulcott, but anything more than two storeys would affect neighbours' sun, views, house prices, and traffic in the suburb, Ross said. Construction could take eight years if done in stages, and the noise and traffic would disrupt residents and school activities, she said.
Boulcott was zoned as a special character area, restricting development and infill housing. Houses sold for $700,000 to $900,000 in Hathaway Ave, and up to $2.3m on Military Ave at the north end of Summerset's land.
Summerset was unwilling to risk its profits by reducing the size of the development, Ross said.
"They don't want to address the size and scale issue, because that's the one that hits their bottom line."
Summerset chief executive Julian Cook agreed the company was happy with its current design, but said plenty of public meetings and consultation had been done to keep neighbours on side.
"We'd like these neighbours to move into our village, so we've got to be nice to them," he said. "We want to be part of that community and address people's issues, but equally, with any development you can't keep everybody happy."
Hutt City Council modelling showed that Lower Hutt needed five to 10 new retirement villages, Cook said.
Summerset would apply for a land zone change for stage two next month and welcomed a public hearing process to gain consent, he said.
Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said community opposition was strong enough to push this case to the Environment Court, and encouraged Summerset to build a village similar to its low-rise, high-quality Trentham development.
- The Dominion Post
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