Historic Queenstown homestead appears safe despite sale plans

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The future of a large historic Queenstown homestead looks safe even though it’s now on the market. 

Hulbert House, on a large site bordered by Ballarat, Hallenstein and Malaghan Streets, has been listed for sale by New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty. 

The impressive timber villa was built in 1888 by Horatio Nelson Firth, a local receiver of gold revenue and mining registrar plus court official. It served as a family home, guesthouse and several other uses before former British Army captain Ted Sturt bought it in 1981. 

Sturt restored the run-down property and ran it as a guesthouse till he died in 2009. 

Sydney-based Guy Sturt says he and Ted’s other three children, who also live overseas, put Hulbert House up for sale because it’s too difficult to manage remotely. 

“It’s in pretty good shape but it needs an adaptive re-use – whether as a guesthouse or as commercial suites. 

“It needs someone with some energy and who’s on the ground to really make that happen and that’s not us.” 

Guy is confident the house is well-protected through a heritage covenant on the title that his father negotiated with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT). 

NZHPT Otago/Southland area manager Owen Graham says the covenant protects the building in perpetuity on its location. 

“[Ted] was very enlightened in his thinking – he put a lot into trying to bring it up to a good standard and he didn’t want to see that wasted after he was gone.” 

Graham views the possible sale as “the best thing that could happen to the building”. 

“We think it’s a great property that could be redeveloped for a lot of uses.” 

Graham says Hulbert House’s significance is high as one of the few old homesteads left in central Queenstown. 

“I know land is valuable and I know this is an opportunity but every opportunity like that doesn’t have to be multi-storey apartments.” 

The building has an NZHPT category 2 classification but Graham says there’s a case to elevate it to category 1 to acknowledge its ‘special or outstanding’ heritage value. 

Hulbert House is protected as a category 3 heritage item in Queenstown Lakes District Council’s district plan. 

Demolition – or removal – would be a ‘discretionary’ activity that would require resource consent while any alteration would be a ‘controlled’ or allowed-for activity that would also require resource consent. 

Council senior policy analyst Sue Mavor says she’s a little bit surprised that it’s not a category 1 or 2 item which would make demolition either a prohibited or non-complying activity. 

However she adds the council is reviewing its district plan. 

“All those heritage categories and the list of protected features and the rules are essentially all up for review.” 

Hulbert House has a rateable value of $2.4 million – the land component is $2.25m.