A third kitchen sink is one too many for council rules
Palmerston North resident Gary Sturgess cannot believe how much red tape there is over a kitchen sink.
The particular sink is part of downstairs rooms at his Ruahine St home where 21-year-old granddaughter Georgia Garrett, who has Down syndrome, is learning independent living skills while under the same roof as mother Tania, aunt Jacqui and granddad Gary.
The family bought the house 2½ years ago, having chosen to live together after a difficult year when Sturgess' wife Valerie had died.
The home had everything to enable three adults and a teenager to live together for support, while each had private space, a bathroom and somewhere to prepare a cup of tea or basic meal.
But a few months after purchase, a letter from the city council told them the two downstairs units did not have planning consent.
Sturgess was taken by surprise, and appalled by the initial estimates of the cost of putting things right.
There was the possibility of having to provide two extra car parks on site for each unit, additional outdoor living space, paying development contributions – adding up to about $12,000. Alternatively, the sinks could be disconnected. Landscaping plans went on hold.
Since then, they have paid a $648 deposit for a land use consent application for Jacqui's "dependent living unit", which has been granted, and will mean the rates will increase.
But Georgia's sink has to go.
Sturgess said when buying the house, the family had no reason to question whether the kitchen sinks were consented. There was no sink in Georgia's flat when they first looked, but there had been in the past, and the vendor offered to put it back in for them.
"We thought that would make it perfect for Georgia, given her desire to go flatting one day."
They had sought a Land Information Management report before purchase, and no red flags were raised.
The family said without the extra sinks, they would not have bought the property.
Council head of planning services Simon Mori said the presence of a kitchen sink was used as the yardstick to decide whether a unit or sleepout was self-contained.
"The building would then have everything it needs for a person to live there."
And if kitchen sinks were installed legally, it required a building consent, which triggered a review of whether the building work also met planning rules.
The council is in the process of reviewing residential zone rules to give people more choices about building homes and make it easier to have just one dependent living unit on their property, but the changes were unlikely to go far enough to cover Georgia's sink.
Policy planner Matthew Mackay said submitters had challenged the rule about just one extra self-contained unit on a residential property, and there was a possibility of more flexibility being written into the District Plan after a hearing this year.
Meantime, Jacqui said the family had never intended to dodge council rules, and appreciated the helpful attitude of council regulatory staff.
They would do what they had to do, but it had been stressful to find the features of the home that most appealed to them could be taken away.
And it leaves Georgia with a problem about washing her dishes.
"I make sandwiches for lunch, I make my breakfast – where am I going to put my dishes?"
The choices would be to use her bathroom, or the laundry sink, or the upstairs dishwasher – nothing like the conventional habits of independent living.
Tania said the rule was petty – "bureaucracy gone mad".
Sturgess said a kitchen sink seemed like such a minor issue, and there was no leeway to bend the rules.
"For me it seems so simple. It's just a sink."