Devonport Peninsual Precincts Society spokesperson Iain Rea and supporters protesting outside a hearing in Takapuna on the proposed development

Nimby wars: everyone’s a winner in Devonport, or are they?

Devonport is getting that new retirement village but developer Ryman Healthcare has agreed to make it more like, you know, a village. Is everyone happy now? Well, almost.

The citizens and architects of Devonport have won their dispute with Ryman Healthcare. The company is now just one legal step away from building its new 600-unit retirement village on undeveloped land in the suburb. But, after more than two months of mediation with objectors it has agreed to a raft of changes to the earlier plans. Devonport will get more density; the complex will fit better into the community.

Iain Rea of the Devonport Precinct Preservation Society (DPPS), which took the case against Ryman to the Environmental Court, told The Spinoff he was surprised and pleased at the outcome and said it represented “a real about-face” by Ryman. Julie Stout of the lobby group Urban Auckland told us the same.

Devonport Peninsual Precincts Society spokesperson Iain Rea and supporters protesting outside a hearing in Takapuna on the proposed development

In case you missed it: Ryman was issued with a consent to build the complex in January, following a majority decision in a hearing by three independent commissioners. But the DPPS took the council (because it approved the consent) and the company to court – either to stop the complex being built or to make it substantially better. The NZ Institute of Architects and Urban Auckland, a lobby group, joined the court action on the DPPS side: neither of them was opposed to the project going ahead, but they wanted improvements. As it stood, they said, it did not represent the vision of the council’s Unitary Plan for quality development. The court channelled the dispute into mediation, where it’s been for over two months.

At the end of last week the parties announced they had reached agreement. On the suggestion of the objectors, Ryman has agreed to break up two large independent-living blocks into six smaller blocks, gathered around a courtyard. They will also build closer to the road, so the whole complex is less isolated from the suburb. “They’re putting the village back into the retirement village,” said Stout.

The large central block containing the hospital facilities will be reoriented and redesigned to make better use of the sun, and there will also be changes to the colour scheme and treatment of surfaces, to improve the general appearance of the complex.

The case now goes back to the Environment Court, which must approve the mediated settlement. Given the consensus, that seems very likely.

Still an issue with the traffic on Lake Rd? After our last article several people commented that this complex will make Lake Rd even more congested than it already is. As we noted in that article, traffic generated by a retirement village tends not to use the roads at peak times, so this is a more traffic-friendly outcome than other possible options for the site, like a high-density townhouse complex.

But Urban Auckland isn’t entirely happy. In a media release it said it should not have been necessary to drag Ryman into mediation or court to achieve this outcome. The council, it said, had to raise its game.

The Unitary Plan stipulates there will be “quality development that is in keeping with the planned built character of the area”. It also notes that the council’s own Urban Design Panels provide expert, independent advice. There are now seven of these panels, comprising architects, planners and others with urban design expertise, all charged with guiding developers. But in this case Rymans ignored the recommendations of the design panel in its consent application, and a 2-1 majority of hearings commissioners let them get away with it.

“Auckland Council and its Hearing Commissioners need to show more courage in enforcing the objectives and policies of the Unitary Plan,” said Urban Auckland. “Otherwise, there will be more cases like this one taken to the Environment Court by angry, disillusioned communities.”

Say it loud. The Unitary Plan doesn’t guarantee good design, but the council’s processes for implementing the plan are supposed to do exactly that. This was promised by council when the UP was adopted. It should not be necessary for residents and other groups to go to court to make it happen.

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