New waterfront development planned on Site 9 - but land price withheld from ratepayers
A new commercial development on Wellington's waterfront looks set to cause controversy before construction even begins.
Wellington City Council's Site 9, alongside Customhouse Quay, has been earmarked by developer Willis Bond & Co for a new five-storey block – but it is being opposed by Waterfront Watch, and is expected to end up in the Environment Court.
The price the developers have paid for the council land, between Wagamama restaurant and the old motorhome park, is being withheld from ratepayers, which has raised concern among some councillors.
The proposed block would be 21 metres high, with a basement car park and a publicly accessible ground floor.
Although likely to be used for offices, council documents say it could also be used as boutique apartments, either for private sale or as serviced hotel accommodation.
Willis Bond secured a first right of refusal on Site 9 in 2014, as it worked on plans for the adjoining Site 10, which has since become the PwC Centre development.
It took years of debate and court proceedings before plans were approved for the Site 10 development, which is since believed to have been sold to a Palmerston North supermarket owner for close to $90 million.
Willis Bond managing director Mark McGuinness said the new smaller-scale development at Site 9 would appeal to professional services, and he was excited by the design.
"There are issues in Wellington after the earthquake with displaced offices, and we see this as filling that niche."
The "beautiful" base-isolated building would be good for the waterfront and finish off the area, he said.
"The nature of the waterfront means people will oppose developments, but we have had some people come back to us after projects to say 'well done'."
Waterfront Watch president Victor Davie said an increase of the inner-city population meant the protection of waterfront open space was more vital than ever.
"The recent loss of the Site 10 open space used for the construction of an enormous office building doesn't make sense on the waterfront. Our view is that Site 9 should not have another office building.
"The beautiful historic Shed 13 building opposite would be dwarfed with this five-storeyed proposal."
On Thursday, the council's city strategy committee will be asked to approve public consultation for the new development, but all commercial decisions will be made behind closed doors.
McGuinness said it was up to the council to make decisions on sharing commercial terms.
Committee chairwoman Iona Pannett voiced her concerns on Tuesday about accountability and ratepayer money.
She warned the Site 9 project would end up in court, and could be contentious.
The council documents say that, if the resource consent applications proceed in a similar manner to those for Site 10, it is likely there will be a direct referral for a hearing in the Environment Court.
"It's publicly known that, when a building is developed on the waterfront, we get money for it. I am unclear how this constitutes public engagement if we are not talking about that [money] aspect of the project," Pannett said.
"I find that really problematic and think it is critical information."
She asked if the commercial terms could be put in public consultation.
Council waterfront project director Michael Faherty told councillors it would only set a precedent. "The terms of the development are confidential."
A further discussion about the terms was then held in a session from which the public were excluded.
If given the go-ahead, public consultation will run from July 3-28, with a final report and recommendations ready for council approval in September.
Willis Bond would then submit its application for resource consent in October.
Work would not start on the site until late 2018 at the earliest, Faherty said.