A massive expansion of Queenstown’s town centre has the green light.
The Environment Court has given its approval to council plans to of land near Skyline’s gondola, allowing buildings up to seven storeys high.
That includes the controversial Lakeview site earmarked for a $70 million convention centre.
In a face-slap for council plans, the court’s decision for plan change 50 (PC50) confirms housing and visitor accommodation should be priorities - ahead of a convention centre.
But council boss Mike Theelen isn’t fazed.
He says: “PC50 will create new development opportunities for the Lakeview site and the other land included in the PC50 area.
“It gives the council greater flexibility to pursue the development of the convention centre.”
The massive rezoning covers 14.5 hectares of land, which will change from high-density residential to Queenstown town centre zone.
It includes Lakeview and its surrounds all the way across to the fire station on Camp Street and down as far as Crown Plaza hotel on Beach St.
Town centre zoning allows the land to be used for houses, hotels, offices, bars, restaurants and shops - but not big box retail.
Theelen says council’s pleased with the decision, although there’s still an appeal period to run.
“Once that has finished, the council will consider formally making the PC operative.”
Five parties had appealed the decision of independent planning commissioners to the Environment Court.
Council reached agreement with them before and during the April hearings.
Those agreements were combined into a single document for the court’s consideration.
And the court itself suggested changes to the text of the plan change - including ranking housing as a higher priority than a convention centre.
Judge Jon Jackson also wanted to hear evidence the objectives of the district plan wouldn’t be undermined by PC50, in particular the visual impact on historic downtown.
Jackson noted “undesirable” developments in other mountain resorts overseas such as France and Italy.
“Of course we also recognise that brutalist architecture has in many parts of the world allowed the less well-off to enjoy winter sports.
“However, that is not appropriate in and around Queenstown Bay as the objectives of the district plan make clear.”
The court was eventually satisfied the buildings - ranging from 4.5m high to a whopping 26m, but mostly 12m - would not ruin the look of the town.
The court heard from experts including the council’s architect Douglas Weir and Auckland-based urban designer Ian Munro.
Weir says he would stake his reputation on the buildings not appearing too bulky.
Munro says PC50 promotes the outcome that will provide something of a “wall” of buildings ringing the historic town centre.
But he says that would emphasise the downtown’s low-rise historic core and its value.
The court found his view “quite persuasive”.
The court also removed the term “predominant use” to ensure large-scale retailing can’t take over the Lakeview site.