Outcry at plan to sell CBD site
Nelson property developers and owners have poured scorn on the city council's plans to sell prime space for a large retail development.
Other organisations and individuals are outraged and astonished at plans to sell Wakatu Square car park land to an Auckland developer for a new Farmers retail store at a "bargain rate". They appeared in force at a hearing in Nelson yesterday which was marked by legal threats and calls to explain the haste over the deal.
Meanwhile, retail chain Farmers is fighting to keep the city on side as it does not want to see its best opportunity for growth in Nelson drowned by public reaction.
The council announced last month the proposed sale of 3056 square metres of land in Wakatu Square for a retail development by Auckland based developer Windermere Holdings for a new Farmers store.
The council weighed up four options, but proposes one: Selling the public land to Windermere for a Farmers store, at a price of just over $2 million based on rateable value.
An independent valuation of two parcels of land in Wakatu Square, called for by the public after a recent meeting and released just this week, has put the market value at $2.75 million.
Councillors defending the plan suggested that the negative reaction was perhaps driven by "sour grapes" from local developers who might have missed out on an opportunity to do the development themselves.
Managing director of Gibbons Holdings, Scott Gibbons, said the firm was one of a few local developers which had been eyeing Wakatu Sq.
Few at yesterday's hearing denied the importance of a large retailer like Farmers in Nelson city, but many do not want it in Wakatu Square. Mr Gibbons tabled a dossier of correspondence disproving claims that no local developers were interested in the site.
He was among several to suggest the council should withdraw the proposal to avoid possible court action. His evidence showed Achilles Properties had since 2006 been meeting with the council, and in May this year met with the council chief executive to try to move forward a plan for the site.
Mr Gibbons met with the council chief executive and mayor in April and was asked for advice on council's land holdings. It later transpired the council was already in talks over the land on Wakatu Sq, and the council later responded to Mr Gibbons' query over its proposal to sell to Windermere that it was "required to take the broader view of each situation than just dollars and cents".
Mr Gibbons said the proposal was a "litany of misleading information", and predicated on Farmers being lost to the central city.
Windermere, which is handling the development negotiations for Farmers, told councillors it had been in talks with the council over Wakatu Sq since late last year. The company's representatives left the meeting clearly rattled and perplexed over events.
The battlecry was sounded at the start of the hearing by Mr Miccio's arch rival in the mayoral race, Rachel Reese, who twice attempted to force procedural matters, but lost by nine votes to four on each occasion.
Ms Reese moved that in order to help maintain public confidence in the process, and in light of statements made by the mayor about the proposal, that he withdraw from the hearing.
Mr Miccio has listed on his website that development of the "Farmers Wakatu Square car park proposal" was one of several council successes for economic development.
The meeting was briefly adjourned while advice was sought. Mr Miccio said outside the meeting the chief executive's advice that he need not step down from the hearing was backed by a legal opinion: "Statements referred to by councillor Reese do not show any pre-determined view on my behalf," he said.
Ms Reese also asked for sufficient time to be given to submitters to make their case, but lost.
Windermere was given almost an hour to present and answer questions when other submitters were ordered to stick to the five-minute allotment.
Nelson lawyer Ken Beckett said the decision to sell the land without valuation advice was ''extraordinary''.
Long-time Nelson realtor Doug McKee's submission reflected a similar view.
''At the end of the day the decision will be whether to box on and face high court proceedings or take the opportunity to start again,'' Mr Beckett said.
He also questioned the release of material to the public, including the market valuation, after the consultation period had started, when it should have been available from the first day.
Nelson lawyer John Fitchett congratulated the council for "getting off its backside to encourage a big retailer", but he opposed the sale for less than [market] valuation and the council not having disclosed the amount earlier.
Farmers Trading Company chief financial officer Michael Power reiterated that it wanted to move because its current two locations were too small for its range of brands and product choices.
While it was committed to Nelson, its preference was to remain in the CBD but it would have to consider operational and financial requirements, including that it may have to move out of the central city.
"Farmers are committed to Nelson. We have been here for many years and have no intention of leaving," Mr Power said.
Tomorrow: Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio explains why there is a deadline for the deal.
- © Fairfax NZ News