The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
May 2, 2014

Dunajtschik demolition a done deal?

News just in via the Stuff website that Mark Dunajtschik has won his appeal in the High Court against the Environment Court. But it does not mean that Mr D has the right to go out and demolish the building straight away – instead, a rehearing has been ordered. This legal stuff is exhausting, and expensive. With the amount that Mr D has spent on the legal costs so far, you might think that he could quite easily have just strengthened the building instead.

“The High Court has ordered the Environment Court to rehear the case and take account of the risk to public safety if the earthquake-prone building remains as it is.
Justice Collins has also instructed it to consider demolition only if it is convinced there are no reasonable alternative.
The Environment Court made two errors of law when it dismissed the appeal by building owner Dunajtschik against Wellington City Council’s denial of a resource consent to demolish the building, said Justice Collins.
The Environment Court was wrong when it said the onus on Dunajtschik was to establish alternatives to demolition had been ”exhaustively and convincingly excluded”.
It also failed to give adequate consideration to the risk to public safety and surrounding buildings.”

The odd thing is, Mark Dunajtschik is a lover of heritage, and of the 1930s in particular. He was spotted at the Napier Art Deco Weekend in February, soaking up the atmosphere of the 1930s period, looking in admiration at the cars and the architecture, which seems odd for someone who is hell-bent on destroying his own, heritage-listed, deco-era, Chicago-style building.

The problem is 100% of his own doing, and completely at odds with the heritage lobby. Let me sum it up for you like this:
Man buys building.
Man knows that he has bought a heritage building.
Man knocks down existing building, and builds a tower.
Man leaves old facade of old building stuck onto side of new tower.
Man leaves lift core of new tower in light well of old building next door.
Man leases new tower for oodles of dosh.
Man wants to make more dosh, but old building next door in way.
Man leaves no gap between new tower, and neighbouring old building next door.
Man owns building next door also.
Man buys it, knowing it is a heritage listed building.
Man gets building really cheap as no one else wants to buy it, because of large tower and lift core protruding into lightwell.
Man asks to demolish building, and replace old part with new mock-up to look a bit like old.
Man is told he can’t do that.
Man takes council to court.
Man hires bulldog.
Man is told by court that he can’t demolish his building.
Man appeals.
Man wins appeal.

and so it goes, or something like this.

Truth is, the building is quite readily able to be strengthened.
Truth is, the building is buggered because it has a tower in the lightwell.
Truth is, the new tower could go ahead without demolishing the whole of the old building.
Truth is, punters on Stuff are rabid mongrels who will be saying things like “Just demolish it already” and “If you like it so much, why don’t you buy it yourself” and “Bloody greenies and tree-huggers” etc, as that is what Stuff-trolls do.

wellygary
2 - 05 - 14

Wasn’t the plan for any new building to share the lift core of the HSBC/MFAT building, thus lowering the construction costs, along with having polystrene titivations to appease us on the street below who wondered where the heritage building went?

Maximus
2 - 05 - 14

Absolutely, yes. Quite amazing to propose a “new” tower building, with no lift core at all. In other words, he had always planned to build the second half of the tower, from day 1, which is fine. But then, don’t blame the Council for not letting you demolish the building you now can’t use…

Peter
3 - 05 - 14

From the comments of the well informed wellygary and Maximus, this appears to be another case of a cynical developer gaming the system. In this case, the knock-it-down-Stuff-trolls weren’t well co-ordinated or activated so the Council were obliged to make a credible case in the Environment Court, knowing there would be an appeal. While the High Court did not rule against the Council, the door has been opened by Mr. Dunjtschick’s appeal.

Council has a bit of a record for rewarding bad developer behaviour so it is predicted that this is how the game will play from here. With the return of the case to the Environment Court, the option of mediation will be re-opened. This process will probably only include the developer and Council as other parties who sought to save the building will have fallen by the wayside, in many cases because of the potential astronomic expenses of expert witnesses and legal representation. As the content of the mediation is privileged, the public will never know what went on so The Council need not put up robust arguments to save the building. A final decision allowing for demolition to proceed will be formally issued by the Court on the basis of the consent of both parties. Note, there will not have been a judicial hearing. This agreement will be subsequently endorsed by the Council with feigned disappointment. Behind the scenes however, there will be euphoria because of the increased rates return from the site with a shiny new Asteron type structure. The first glint of awareness of the public will be when the demolition team moves in. At this point, there will be a ‘win-win’ press release to convince everyone that the Court had a duty to protected the safely of the public and that the Council had to comply.

This approach is far more sophisticated than the Chow Brothers adopted in Auckland (http://eyeofthefish.org/chow-leaves-bad-taste/ ) but the net effect is the same. Unfortunately, with the scenario that has been outlined, Mr Dunjtschick is likely to escape the public opprobrium that many believe such cultural vandals deserve.

Pauline
6 - 05 - 14

Well said Maximus and Peter…. Thank heavens the owners of the Public Trust building on Lambton/Stout are restoring this Heritage building and they knew what they were buying…..

Pauline
6 - 05 - 14

Forgot to praise the owners of the Huddart Parker and Hope Gibbons buildings who restored their wonderful buildings…..