Fears over future of historic Queenstown site

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A descendant of Queenstown’s founder fears the historic significance of a Kelvin Peninsula development site for sale could be ignored. 

Local holiday apartment owner Rosemary Marryatt – the great-granddaughter of William Rees – is shocked an ‘information memorandum’ for the sale of Kawarau Falls Station’s stages two and three makes no reference to an approved heritage precinct. 

The precinct, named Rees Place, was a condition of the resource consent for the site issued to original developer Nigel McKenna. 

McKenna’s companies went bust, although stage one – the Hilton hotel complex – still went ahead. 

Rees Place was to comprise the last two remaining buildings constructed by runholder Rees in the 1860s – a small dairy and a relocated meat store – along with the footprint of his homestead, which was demolished in 1986. It also included two original laurel hedges, now overgrown, historic trees and interpretation elements. 

“I think we have to retain our history,” Marryatt says. 

“Rees was an important man – let’s keep something that he built, that was part of him. 

“We have two stone buildings that give us some idea of construction and materials that were used back in the 1860s. 

“I hope some time in the very near future the Rees Place that was planned by [local heritage architect] Jackie Gillies can go ahead.” 

Queenstown author Richard Thomas, who’s researched Rees, says the proposed precinct is of national historic importance. 

“If the last remaining link in the area to one of New Zealand’s most romantic pioneer figures is lost forever by default, there are people in positions of authority in the Wakatipu who will, deservedly, not be forgiven.” 

Nick Hargreaves, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle – the agency marketing the property – denies hiding any information. 

A 22-page information memorandum, outlining approved hotel and apartment buildings, is only a summary, he says. 

“People interested in the property will enter into due diligence and as part of that they will make their own investigations. 

“This is a very iconic piece of real estate, obviously there’s a lot of information and history with it, we’re telling people to do as much homework as they can.” 

To that end, Hargreaves says the deadline for expressions of interest has been extended from March 1 until the end of next week. 

NZ Historic Places Trust (HPT) Otago/Southland area manager Owen Graham says because Rees Place buildings pre-date 1900 they’re protected under historic places law as archaeological sites. 

“If the great granddaughter is concerned that perhaps a prospective purchaser could do some bad things to those buildings, NZ law says it’s an archaeological site, you need an authority from HPT, that’s kind of a backstop.” 

However, it’s also a good time to question council and ensure Rees Place is listed in the district plan, Graham says. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council policy and planning boss Philip Pannett says discussions on a draft heritage list for the district plan continue next week. 

“I’m not sure whether it’s going to be listed or not,” Pannett says, but adds the resource consent for the site also protects Rees Place. 

“If new owners don’t want to protect it, then they’d need to apply for a new resource consent.”