Heritage hub-bub at luxury development

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A row has erupted over a luxury housing scheme on the historic farmstead site of Queenstown’s founding father.

Developers Winton Partners have council permission to build 56 homes at William Rees’ former Kawarau Falls Station, on the road to Kelvin Peninsula.

Twenty of the 34 sections in the first phase of Lake’s Edge, on the market for up to $1.1 million each, are already sold.

Three archaeological features dating back to Rees’ days, in the 1860s, remain on site - a water tank, meat shed and dairy.

Resource consent was granted in December and the developer plans to destroy the ramshackle schist water tank and relocate the meat shed next to the dairy.

A laurel hedge of Rees’ era has already been removed.

That’s incensed Rees researcher Richard Thomas, who says Rees’ great granddaughter Rosemary Marryatt is also ‘sickened’ by the lack of protection afforded the site.

Neighbouring Hilton Hotel owner Kawarau Village Holdings Ltd is also taking the council to court over its granting of the non-notified consent.

It has filed an application for a judicial review.

Thomas: “This uniquely historic site is in grave danger of permanent and irreparable damage for no other reason than private commercial gain.

“That’s ironically the very modern day equivalent of the 1860s gold rush that destroyed Rees’ dream of having found his promised land.”

Thomas says Queenstown’s council should have done more to protect the site.

In October, Heritage New Zealand archaeologist Dr Matthew Schmidt gave the developers permission to carry out earthworks on the recorded archaeological site.

But he wants the meat shed to remain where it is. It can be moved as a whole without sign-off from Heritage NZ but needs consent if demolished.

Schmidt stressed to the developers the importance of the “rare” early pastoral run farmstead ancillary buildings, given the colonial-style homestead itself was demolished in 1987.

He points out there were no discussions with Heritage NZ prior to an earthworks application.

Queenstown-based developers Chris and Michaela Meehan, of Winton Partners, declined to comment.

It’s understood the developers are pressing ahead with a proposal for a heritage precinct on one lot - likely worth more than $1m if otherwise sold – with dairy, meat shed, a replanted laurel hedge and interpretation boards explaining their history. That’s supported by Queenstown heritage architect Jackie Gillies - who has been engaged by the local council to undertake a heritage assessment with a view to including the dairy site on the district plan’s protected places inventory.

Councillor Cath Gilmour says she’s asked for the buildings to be placed on the inventory but that’s unlikely to happen before work begins.

It will, however, protect the buildings in future.

Gilmour: “We’ve seen before protection under resource consent is not foolproof.

“They should be retained for the community and the enrichment of the development itself.”

Council planning boss Marc Bretherton says: “There are consent conditions around the structures which are being actively monitored.

“The developer must comply with these.”

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz