Illegal dwellings a 'widespread' issue

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 13:00 22/10/2012

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A high-profile case of illegal multiple dwellings on a property in the Motueka Valley has resulted in the Environment Court ordering two yurts, a cottage and workers' accommodation to be vacated and disestablished.

But the Tasman District Council is taking a more moderate approach to the property owners, Jan-Albert Droppers and Irma Jager, after Ms Jager met chief executive Lindsay McKenzie last week.

The family publicly defied an abatement notice from the Tasman District Council last year, that required them to stop people from living in buildings other than the family's main house at 1212 West Bank Rd. Those residents do not pay rent but contribute to costs such as electricity and internet.

The couple made their case public in an effort to attract attention to the issue of multiple dwellings, and their plight spurred a public meeting in Ngatimoti last September that drew about 140 people.

At the end of that meeting, an unopposed voice vote passed a resolution asking the council "not to take enforcement action against landowners who have multiple residences until such time as the Tasman Resource Management Plan provisions have been reviewed".

The council is in the midst of reviewing its rural policies although environment and planning manager Dennis Bush-King told last year's meeting that the review would not be complete until 2014.

Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer said at a pre-hearing conference in the Nelson District Court that Mr Droppers and Ms Jager had a "philosophical viewpoint that they are not persons who are subject to the processes of the Resource Management Act 1991" and that they believed their property was "not subject to the jurisdiction of the council". The couple did not appear at the court's subsequent hearing of the case.

Noting the family's refusal to take part in the hearing process, Judge Dwyer pointed out that failure to comply with the order could result in up to two years' imprisonment or a fine of up to $300,000.

Ms Jager said they were not trying to set people against the council with their stand but that they wanted to hold the council accountable. "If it was only about us we wouldn't have had the guts to stand up. We only stood up because we knew there were lots of people in our situation."

She said that following the meeting with Mr McKenzie, "we do recognise that the council does have authority but only because they are serving the people".

The family is now negotiating with the council over how to bring the living arrangements of the 10 extra people living on their property at 1212 West Bank Rd into compliance.

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The Motueka Valley Association, which hosted last year's meeting, had another meeting on the issue in September. Association treasurer Bruce Dyer said the concerns of the 33 people at that meeting were "fairly low-key", partly because of the anticipation that something was being done about multiple dwelling rules - "but if that was put off until 2014 that would change things".

He said the Droppers-Jager case had "brought to the council's attention how widespread this issue is in the district as a whole, not just in the valley".

The "overwhelming majority" of those who attended the meeting were looking for a review that allowed more flexibility.

Mr Bush-King said the attention to the issue of multiple dwellings had resulted in more people approaching the council to find out what they had to do to "regularise" their living situations. But the council was not being proactive in trying to catch rule breakers.

He said the council only responded to complaints from the public.

In the current year the council has received 15 complaints and issued seven abatement notices. The year before it had 15 complaints and issued three abatement notices.

At an environment and planning meeting in September, council staff told the councillors that there was no likelihood of any new rural policies being adopted before late 2014. Councillors Tim King and Brian Ensor both said that was unacceptable.

"The multiple dwelling issue is of key importance to many people out there who are watching to see how flexible we are going to be," said Mr King.

Councillor Trevor Norriss said it was important to get a draft out for consultation in a shorter time frame, saying it was unfair to not do it before the October 2013 local body election, as that would dump the issue on to a new council.

Mr Bush-King said the next chance for the public to be involved in the rural review would be by the end of this year, when an issues paper was due to be released for consultation.

- The Nelson Mail

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