At the recent Northlake Investments Ltd’s hotel resource consent hearing, the meeting was adjourned for a week, to allow the applicant’s lawyer, Warwick Goldsmith, time to prepare written closing remarks. That extra time allowed Goldsmith to fashion some astonishing remarks that — when posted on Facebook by Niamh Shaw, Founder of Wanaka Community Supporting Our Northlake Neighbours Incorporated — left jaws dropped in disbelief all over Wanaka.
Goldsmith argued that people who bought into the development "must have considered the possibility of this type [a 113-bed hotel] of development." It is unclear how he came to this conclusion but the residents of Northlake certainly disagree.
Anonymous Three responded, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think there would be a hotel in suburbia so far from the town centre. It’s impractical for tourists and totally unfair to people who have bought sections in this area.”
Anonymous One said, “We had never bought into a new development before and had our sale and purchase agreement reviewed by our lawyer. The agreement document included the very broad plan outline for stages one through three in which lot 1005 appears empty. Nothing was pointed out to us about the nature of the consent for lot 1005, or in fact that any part of the agreement was out of the ordinary.”
Anonymous Four said, “The information provided in Northlake marketing material showed no indication of a hotel in the ‘village centre’ which was to have the likes of a medical centre, childcare facility, café restaurant and bar, general store and delicatessen, fitness centre, shops and offices as well as tennis courts. While one expects artistic licence in photographs and flowery marketing language from developers and real estate companies, a 113-room, three-storey hotel could not be expected or considered a possibility.”
Goldsmith also argued that there is "unchallenged evidence" to the fact that the hotel has been properly integrated. ‘Integration’ however, is a nebulous term. Does the colour palette of the cladding match surrounding houses? Possibly. However, there is more to integration than an architect’s choice of paint. Anonymous Three said, “The hotel design may have been integrated into the design code of Northlake houses, but the hotel cannot be integrated into the social fabric of the Northlake community, even if residents were able to use the facilities.”
“I would love to know if Mr Goldsmith would say the hotel is properly integrated if it were to be built directly across from his own home,” said Anonymous One.
Niamh Shaw said, “In my opinion, limiting the definition of ‘integration’ to building design and materials is not in itself an integrated approach to this proposal.”
One of the most surprising remarks made by Goldsmith was the declaration that the current tennis court is not consented, and is in fact, illegal. But, Northlake has marketed itself with images of tennis courts, swimming pools, boutique shops and community facilities; very little of which has yet come to pass. Concerned local, Sharon Beattie said, “if [the tennis court] is illegal, was always to be removed, and it has been used in advertising, then surely it is a breach of the Fair Trade Act?” Whether Northlake was in breach of the Fair Trade act is something for legal minds to debate but knowingly selling a product that is illegal and unconsented without any disclosure is not something that concerned locals will gloss over.
Shaw said, “As a layperson I have no idea, but I’m sure an expert could explain how a tennis court came to be built illegally. Presumably the Queenstown Lakes District Council
will respond to this admission that the tennis court is illegal.”
QLDC responded, “This matter is before the Independent Commissioners to consider at the moment and we will not be providing comment until this process is complete. [However] if anyone does anything unlawful without the necessary consents, then enforcement action could be taken by QLDC. The developer could also apply retrospectively for a consent, noting that it may or may not be granted.”
Sonya Fynmore from Winton responded, “The [tennis court] consent issue was not known until the recent hotel hearing when it was discovered that consent is required because it has been built 30cm too close to the boundary. Of course, if QLDC raises concern about that 30cm error, NIL [Northlake] will respond appropriately.”
In his closing, Goldsmith maintained that the opinion of the community submitters who represented themselves at the hearing should be disregarded because it is not “expert evidence”. This is something that Shaw strongly disagrees with: "Like anyone in a free and equal democratic society, Mr Goldsmith is entitled to his opinion. However, you don't need
to be an expert to understand the effect a three-storey 113-room hotel will have on a small neighbourhood. Further, all residents and rate-payers in this community should have the right to make a personal submission and speak to that at a consent hearing, with the understanding that it will be heard and considered despite not being endorsed by one or nine paid consultants."
Additionally, the irony was obviously lost on Goldsmith that he was missing one arguably crucial piece of expert evidence. Reiterating her hearing submission notes, Shaw said,
“In all the evidence provided by the applicant, there was none from a hospitality professional. Why not? A hotel is a high-volume, high-impact operation; and the type of hotel, [for example] catering to local or international tourists, tour coaches or individuals, single night or medium-term stays, is extremely relevant to this application in terms of volume and frequency of visitors, how many staff are required and how much daily traffic it is likely to generate.”
All the above pales in comparison to Goldsmith’s attempt to pass off the Wanaka Community Supporting Our Northlake Neighbours Incorporated as nothing more than a redundant nuisance. “In this case we have no evidence of the identity or extent of membership of the society. For a society to be incorporated it must have 15 members so one can presumably presume the society has 15 members. However, we do not know who they are, we do not know whether there are any other members, we have no evidence of any connection between the members and the Northlake development. There is therefore no evidential basis upon which Mr Gardner-Hopkins can claim to be speaking on behalf of the residents of Northlake.”
There is a very good reason the applicant doesn’t know who they are. If they revealed their identity, they would end up in court. The gag clause in the sale and purchase agreements is well known by now. Shaw reiterated, “It is also relevant that Northlake has previously threatened submitters: reminding them that: ‘the lodging of a submission to PC53 by you is in breach of the land covenant’; and seeking that they ‘immediately withdraw your submission lodged in PC53 to comply with the land covenant’.”
At the Hearing, Mr Goldsmith objected to the word ‘threatened’ but didn’t refute the points as they are factually true.
For the purpose of this article, finding Northlake residents who oppose the proposed hotel was easy as shooting fish in a barrel; they are everywhere. They oppose it vociferously but anonymously. Their voices were silenced through the formal submission process, but are very loud in passing conversation, on social media, or around the dinner table where there is vehement opposition. The society has 20 anonymous members who are property owners in Northlake, with 45 members in total; add that to the 139 opposing submissions made, which adds up to a tidy figure of disgruntled and angry locals.
“They’ve manufactured a no-win situation by stating that there’s no evidence of objection by residents, when that very evidence would actually require breach of contract, so that they would then say that such evidence would be inadmissible,” said Wanaka resident Gillian Robinson.
The comments from people on social media demonstrate that the bile in their throats from Northlake’s defence is running high. Local, Paul Tamati said, “the developer and their legal team know how to play New Zealand law and local government.” With less restraint, Robinson said “Gotta ****ing hate lawyers for whom the letter of the law totally overrides the spirit of the law.”
The independent adjudicators are expected to make their decision within six weeks.