Bitter twists for re-zoned couple

ON THE LINE: Richard and Heather Larson were shocked to learn their zoning had changed to red.
ON THE LINE: Richard and Heather Larson were shocked to learn their zoning had changed to red.

A late-night phone call rocked Heather Larson's world more than Christchurch's earthquakes.

It was three weeks before Christmas. Husband Richard was in Auckland and Larson was in bed, ahead of her 2am start at work.

A Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) representative rang about 9pm to say her Avoca Valley home, which had been green-zoned 18 months earlier, was now red-zoned after a year-long review.

"I was half asleep . . . . I thought it was one of my friends taking the p...," Larson said.

"I had no idea and I couldn't speak at first. She said, 'I'm ringing to tell you you're red-zoned'. I said, 'What are you talking about? We've been green for two years, are you joking?' "

Larson was among the 95 Port Hills landowners re-zoned without seeking a review, and one of 237 changed from green zone to red zone.

The news was a "complete shock" as she had not known those not seeking a review could change.

Larson asked the Cera official why she did not know about the review and said she was told: "Read your emails".

She said she received no correspondence and pointed to the original zoning confirmation, which made no mention of a possible review. Publicity around the review had escaped her attention.

"I was over it and thought I didn't need to read about [zoning] any more. As far I was aware, the review was for if you had a problem with your zoning."

Her neighbour, who likewise was re-zoned to red, was unaware also.

The Larsons were to be mortgage-free next month but accepting the $330,000 Crown offer would likely force them to refinance.

An offer at 2007 rateable value - now seven years out of date - was ridiculous, Heather Larson said.

The median price of homes sold in Christchurch in December was $425,000 - a figure that has skyrocketed since the quakes.

"I'm coming up to 50 and I've done everything right. We are so out of pocket.

"We could have sold our house for market value [between the two zoning decisions] because it was green and some other poor bugger would be sitting in front of Cera today instead of us."

In an unfortunate twist, Larson battled to have a city council-issued Section 124 notice - which barred entry to her home because of rockfall risk - lifted from the property early in the quake aftermath. An engineering report satisfied the council it was not at risk.

Had the notice remained in place, she would have been entitled to an insurance payout at the recently-agreed rebuild figure of more than $650,000.

The Press