A storm is brewing over a Queenstown council proposal to gift valuable central Arrowtown land to an affordable housing trust.
The council is calling for submissions to allow the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust to take over Suffolk Street land to build 10 rental properties.
Old cabins on the site will be removed later this year.
Critics believe the trust is bulldozing the community into approving the deal.
They contend the deal is legally shaky, other sites haven’t been explored and if the land’s to be disposed of, it should go to the highest bidder.
As opponents meet to discuss options, the only councillor against it – Arrowtown’s Simon Stamers-Smith – believes the whole town’s up in arms.
Housing Trust chairman David Cole, however, brushes off critics as “serial objectors”.
Cole believes the council’s obliged to transfer the land to his trust due to a memorandum of understanding between them.
Trust ownership of the land would then entitle it to a $1 million Government grant to build the complex, he adds.
Submissions close June 14, but Arrowtown activist Gerard Hall believes the proposal’s a done deal and the council process is “simply tokenism”.
“It seems to be a hell of a rushed decision. The trust advises me it has been negotiating with the council over this site for two years.
“It is only now their plans have been made public, it is only now consultation is happening – why?”
Hall stresses he’s got no beef with the trust helping struggling families get on the property ladder.
But he questions why it’s the trust’s role to be a property developer and/or a rental housing provider.
The council’s been advised by its chief executive Adam Feeley and regulatory & corporate manager Roger Taylor that gifting land for community housing still fits within new, more restrictive provisions of the Local Government Act.
There is “some residual risk”, they’ve written, but carrying out community consultation “mitigates that risk”.
Hall believes the Feeley/Taylor opinion suggests “some unease”.
Hall also cites the recommendation of a 2004 council hearings panel that future use of the land should be “for the benefit of the community, in particular recreational uses”.
If the council disposes of the land, he argues it should put it on the market and sell it the highest bidder.
Other sites on Arrowtown’s boundaries would be better suited for community housing, he says.
Cole, however, says the Suffolk St site is zoned residential and the only other council land in the Wakatipu with the same zoning is the former Queenstown motor park site.
The trust formerly had dibs on land in Arrowtown’s Jopp St but that was taken out of play when the Environment Court rezoned it.
Arrowtown councillor Lex Perkins then introduced the trust to Suffolk St, Cole says.
“It’s already in a form of housing and what the trust wants to do is smarten it up and then provide housing for those who are genuinely in need.”
Though the land would “transfer” to the trust, it would stay in community ownership.
“The land needs to be transferred to the trust’s balance sheet in order to qualify for the [$1m] Government grant.”
Cole says the trust has done quit of bit of consulting including a public meeting last week, four drop-in sessions starting today, and a feedback panel on council’s website.
Cole’s also confident the deal stacks up legally: “I’m just relying on advice, and that advice comes from Wellington.
Cole says he feels Hall is in the “serial objector” camp, adding: “I think if people have some genuine concerns, then why not bring those to me? Usually, what’s driving the people’s objection is prejudice.”
Asked if he’s surprised by the degree of apparent opposition in Arrowtown, Cole responds: “I don’t know where you’re getting that sense of opposition because that’s not what’s coming through to us.”