The long-running saga over yurts on a Motueka Valley farm has been a costly battle for those involved, but it has given more clarity to a complex issue.
The three-year case illustrates a fine balancing act between the protection of valuable rural land and character, and the freedom for landowners to adopt a more communal, and affordable, lifestyle.
Irma Jager and Jan-Albert Droppers have ended up paying fines of $33,000 for illegal dwellings on their Wantoo Wantoo organic farm, after defying the Tasman District Council over unconsented yurts and a shed used as a dwelling.
The couple had initially complied by removing illegal dwellings after court action last year, but the case resumed when three new yurts were erected on the farm this year.
Essentially, the couple were fined for their defiance in refusing to seek resource consents - a path they had initially ruled out because they believed the chances of having them granted were slim.
The judge said the dwellings posed no damage to the environment but may have damaged the integrity of planning rules designed to protect rural amenities and lifestyles.
However, just last month the couple received consents for all their dwellings, a decision that shows their changed attitude and, Jager believes, changing attitudes to communal and alternative living.
She was convinced the council would not have given the consent three years ago.
A new council approach was signalled in January this year when it gave its first consent for a yurt as a second dwelling on a Mapua property.
Council officials said that the problem was not with the structure itself; rather that the correct planning and building consents were sought so the impact could be carefully weighed up.
The council is in the middle of reviewing its rural land use policy and held a first round of public consultation last year. It plans to develop a new policy by the end of this year.
Public feedback over the question of rural housing showed there was general support for a relaxation in the number and type of homes allowed, in particular from Golden Bay residents.
But there was also concern about the cumulative impact of such changes on rural character and productive land. Rural subdivisions, for example, were not supported.
There was no clear consensus on how the council could apply a relaxation of the rules. One suggestion was to allow multiple dwellings on poorer quality land, defined through zoning or on a case-by-case basis.
The Motueka Valley case, where there was deemed to be no adverse environmental impact on the farm from a limited increase in dwellings, shows a careful weighting of the issues can lead to a compromise.
No-one wants to see houses filling farms, but some flexibility may produce more affordable and environmentally sustainable housing options.
- The Nelson Mail