By Bruce Morris
OPINION: How long is long enough? How long should neighbours and a community have to wait before a land owner decides it’s time to do something about a bombshell site that’s an absolute eyesore?
Next month marks the third anniversary of a fire that ripped through the old Four Kauri Medical Centre at 728 New North Rd, and the burnt-out shell still stands – a magnet to every creature from rats and mice to late night drinkers and vandals.
Eight months ago, when Mt Albert Inc first raised questions about the development plans for the site and the property immediately behind, the council said it was talking to the owners about “pre-development processes”.
Prodded by our inquiries over the state of the property, along went an officer for a closer look and required the owner to clean up the grounds and better secure the building to prevent public access.
A light trim of the jungle and a lame attempt at boarding up the windows – making the hovel look even uglier – was apparently all that was required.
The council decided then the building “is not in a condition that would warrant council taking action in relation to demolition”… and, it seems, promptly forgot about it.
Putting aside the question of exactly what level of decay is needed before demolition is deemed necessary, Mt Albert Inc has spent the last few weeks tracking the owner and his lawyers.
At one stage, a statement of intent was promised by the lawyers, but it never came and follow-up calls and emails were not returned. The owner himself? His mobile seems always to be on voice messaging and he, too, doesn’t bother responding to emails.
As we posted last September, “The hovel sits barely 50m from the intersection of St Luke’s Rd and New North Rd – the gateway to Mt Albert. How could such an eyesore be allowed to remain so long in such a prime position?”
Eight months later – now 31 months since the property was sold after the fire on May 28, 2015 – we asked the same question through ward councillors Cathy Casey and Christine Fletcher.
Ms Fletcher’s inquiry resulted in a visit by a council compliance officer and – here we go again – the issuing of a notice to the owner to better secure the building and tidy up the grounds.
We can see him now, shaking in his boots as the mighty council machine reads the riot act.
Both councillors came back with the message: “Demolition is planned at some point in the near future”.
That’s the sort of line that might have expected at the time of the sale, and is pretty much what was offered eight months ago. What does it mean anyway – by the end of the year? This time next year? Every month that passes is a further jab in the eye of neighbours and community.
Really, it’s a disgrace. Council bylaws require a private property to be maintained “in such a manner that it does not create a nuisance”.
If vermin, an over-grown mess and open-slather for intruders doesn’t constitute a nuisance, then what does?
In the end, says Albert Eden Local Board co-chair Glenda Fryer, it comes down to a lack of compliance officers.
“The council has enough suitable by-laws to deal with this worrying case of ‘house neglect’ in Mt Albert, which has turned into a case where the community is very concerned from a public health point of view,” she says.
“However there are so many urgent compliance cases that ones like this get placed in the ‘less urgent’ category. The answer is more compliance officers to deal with the many cases where members of the public are wilfully ignoring bylaws.
“It’s plainly a funding issue of core council business. Doubling the funding for by-law compliance is the most effective course of action.”
Christine Fletcher goes a step further, blaming the structure of the supercity.
While the supercity had been brilliant in a strategic sense, “it is letting us down desperately in how we manage communities,” she says. Eyes were substantially on the big picture while smaller issues, important to communities, were being allowed to fester in a city of small villages.
Ms Fletcher said the eyesore at 728 New North Rd was “totally unacceptable” and she would support any moves to give local people across Auckland better access to council channels to tackle such problems. One solution might be to give local boards more authority so that they had real power in their communities.
A cynic might suggest the problems for the neighbourhood would have been over a year or so ago if a senior council officer or elected representative was living next door to the burnt-out shell. Can anyone really imagine the council CEO or a committee chair putting up with such a mess?
The most galling thing of all is that when the owner finally demolishes the building and applies for resource consent, council officers will be pleased to entertain a substantial development to meet the vision of the Unitary Plan.
And you can bet the application will be considered without reference to the neighbours and community that have been forced to endure such rubbish for so long.