Arrowtown cottages face sell-off

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Arrowtown’s historic miners’ cottages could be sold back into private hands as Queenstown’s council reviews its property portfolio.

Queenstown Lakes District Council – which owns the 130-year-old heritage-listed buildings – is considering selling off up to $23 million of stock.

Council boss Adam Feeley says special consideration will be given to all its heritage properties – including the three cottages on Buckingham Street and Williams Cottage in Queenstown CBD, occupied by Vesta Design Store and cafe.

But Feeley confirmed they could be sold if the public supports the idea.

“Having gone to great lengths to acquire and restore them through enormous community effort, we cannot put these important heritage buildings at any risk,” Feeley says.

“It may well be that the community is comfortable that public funds remain invested in these properties but it is beholden to council to test that assumption.”

Public consultation will be held on the future of the Arrowtown cottages, which were bought for $1.9m in 2007 from late billionaire landlord Eamon Cleary after a Mountain Scene campaign.

The cottages had fallen into disrepair but were restored through a $700,000 three year project.

“In the event that the community does support the sale of any of these properties, it would only be on the basis that a strict caveat is applied in the guise of a protective covenant,” Feeley says.

“In other words the buildings would continue to be protected in perpetuity.”

The review aims to minimise costs by maintaining ownership of strategic property only.

“If we don’t have a clear picture of what we own and why, we can’t make the best financial decisions in the interests of our ratepayers.

“All of these properties cost something to maintain, and many of them produce little or no return.

“Where properties have strategic value in managing the District Plan or our future resources, we will continue to maintain them. However, where they have no intrinsic value and are not producing a meaningful economic return relative to their value, then we need to consider selling them to fund more important council activities.”

Feeley says that at present the council had simply signalled its desire to avoid the business of being a commercial landlord or property investor.

Equally it had recognised the need to maintain important properties both for current and future community needs.

“There will be no fire sale. Any property disposals will be considered and over a lengthy period of time to optimise the right market conditions.

“We need to ensure there is a considered plan around property ownership. If we’ve got ratepayers money tied up in land then we need to have a good reason for it.”

On heritage buildings, Feeley adds the sell-on approach had been successfully demonstrated with the Post Master’s House. It was purchased by council, issued with a covenant and on-sold for successful commercial use.

Feeley anticipated any consultation process would be informed by the community.

“It will be important to discuss the issues with the associated trusts before any recommendations are made.”

The only other exception in the property review was a decision taken on Friday to seek legal advice over the transfer of land in Suffolk Street to the Community Housing Trust.

“No decision has been taken at this stage regarding Suffolk Street land,” Feeley says.