$600m Summerset plans rile neighbours: communities react against villages

Auckland retirement village plans worth nearly $600 million are drawing community ire, from St Heliers to Kohimarama to Parnell and even across in Melbourne.

Kohimarama residents want Auckland Council to reject a $150m Ryman Healthcare retirement village plan which they say breaches height limits by more than double and acts as a warning to all Aucklanders.

Oceania’s $130m St Heliers proposal drew fire when the St Heliers/Glendowie Residents Association said the impact on the volcanic crater was a matter of concern and the Ōrākei Local Board said earthworks would further destroy the tuff ring – an outstanding natural feature.

Ryman Healthcare’s plans in Melbourne’s Coburg drew opposition from local Peter Robertson who said its application for a big new village there had lapsed due to inaction. Ryman in return denies that and says it needs to start by next February and it would seek an extension.

Now, the much larger $300m plans by Summerset Group at Parnell have got some neighbours worried.

Summerset wants to build eight-level blocks for 216 apartments, 100 hospital rooms and 235 parking spaces at 23 and 41 Cheshire St, according to its application.

So why doesn’t the council or the Unitary Plan bar such towering new blocks rising outside someone’s single-level lounge or bedroom or kitchen which once faced a wide green open space? Surely this shouldn’t be allowed, as the negative effects in terms of living amenity and sunlight are drastic.

Graham Roberts, who lives two houses away from the Summerset site, is a member of the Gibraltar Owners Group which wants the company in which he owns shares to engage.

“There will be no buffer from the new construction because Summerset have already taken down all trees,” he complained.

READ SUMMERSET APPLICATION ON DESKTOP HERE:

“We have asked Summerset previously to plant trees to minimise our view of concrete, they have not agreed to this. From the plans it does not look appealing ie glass towers rather than Parnell Village blend in style,” he said.

Summerset would block access to the train platform for people who live at the southern end of the development. This would mean walking for 10 minutes rather than two, he said.

“They plan to eliminate up to 10 public car parks for their second entrance. As you would know, parking in Parnell is already in short supply, so a real concern,” Roberts said.

Ideally, there would be public consultation allowing everyone to have their say, Roberts adds.

“There is still an opportunity I believe to work with the developers, but to date there is no interest from them,” he complained.

Roberts said he wanted his group to have an opportunity to discuss the plans with Summerset.

A Summerset spokeswoman said Parnell would be one of its largest projects to date “along with our St Johns village currently under construction on St Johns Rd. A series of six interconnected apartment buildings are proposed, ranging in height from three to eight storeys on the Domain side of the site. The range of heights creates an undulating effect and enriches the views through to the Domain,” Summerset said.

A four-level carpark and another single-level parking area are planned, the spokesperson said.

A communal village area, care centre and memory care facility will run parallel to Cheshire St where the main entrance is also proposed. It will be connected to the apartment buildings by a covered walkway, the spokeswoman said.

“The development will comprise 216 independent apartments consisting of one, two and three bedrooms, with a further 44 care suites and apartments, 20 memory care suites and apartments and 36 serviced apartments,” she said.

It was designed by Warren & Mahoney “and will feature high-quality facades using a mixture of textures including brick, patterned pre-cast concrete and terracotta rainscreen.”

None of the oak trees felled were protected, she said. Roberts said his group had asked for that but acknowledged they were too late.

“There were four unprotected oak trees,” Summerset said. “More than 75 new specimens are in the landscape design.”

Experienced planning barrister Kitt Littlejohn encouraged the community groups objecting to such schemes to understand more about the Unitary Plan.

Land developers using new thresholds were “not the bad guys” and it was outdated to view them like that, Littlejohn said.

Roberts said his group included one barrister but he acknowledged professional planning advice was yet to be taken.

“The difficulty for most lay users of the Unitary Plan is that they treat the permitted heights in the various zones as a limit which cannot be exceeded. But that is not how this plan works,” Littlejohn said.

“The permitted heights – and other development standards – are set at levels whereby adverse effects from that height etc are considered acceptable, i.e. deemed not to be adverse. But the plan does not define the point at which the effects become adverse,” Littlejohn said.

“Land developers using the new planning thresholds for Auckland are not the bad guys here and there is no justification to treat them as such,” Littlejohn said.

They are perfectly entitled – indeed, are now encouraged by the new national policy statement for urban development capacity – to apply to develop land with more intensive land uses in urban areas. Neighbours are also perfectly entitled to object, he said.

Neither is right or wrong – “they are simply responding to a change in the planning regime and the direction that has been clearly signalled by government. Turning it into a sensational battle of good vs evil is simply outdated”, Littlejohn said.

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