Car parks and eco features dropped from Lakeview - council CEO uses special powers to agree

by Kim Bowden - Jul 05, 2023

Queentown Lakes District Council chief executive Mike Theelen has privately signed off on the Lakeview developer dropping most of its previously promised parking spaces, leaving just 31 spots for more than 300 units – potentially more than 600 residents.

They’re not the only thing to go, either – also already on the chopping block, 2,000 square metres of retail and commercial space open to the public and a much-lauded carbon-negative timber construction element.

Mayor Lewers and QLDC chief executive Mike Theelen - avoiding Lakeview debate with councillors currently excluded from decision making?

Councillor Niki Gladding tells Crux councillors were told of the design modifications last week by council chief executive Mike Theelen, who exercised his solo delegation to approve the developer’s changes.

The news was delivered as a done deal with Mr Theelen suggesting in correspondence to councillors he wanted to avoid conflict with the developers, in spite of a negotiation clause in the development agreement that allows the QLDC to push back on significant changes.

But Ms Gladding says, “If we don't use the negotiation clause, the developer just continues to put forward modifications and our team agree.” 

Ms Gladding’s numbers show 117 of 148 parking spaces have now been culled in stage one of the development – with no requirement to make up for lost space in later stages.

She says the floor area orginally set aside as parking was also flagged as providing space for EV charging, a car-share scheme, and bike parking, and worries these may now be lost to the development too.

However, it appears Mayor Glyn Lewers is happy to play the long game, telling Crux today there are a number of stages in the development in which to ensure the council’s development objectives are achieved.

“Remember this is a development over 15 years. 

“So the argument over the number of car parks will be considered over the whole development. We can't just pick and choose when each car park has to turn up on each stage.”

He also says an exact figure for parking spaces is not specifically flagged by the council as a project objective, rather the council simply wants Lakeview to exhibit “best practice urban design principles”.

Councillor Niki Gladding wonders, if the council has no will to control Lakeview development, whether the land should have been sold outright for $42 million - not a 20-year payment deal. 

“That’s quite fluid when it comes to car parking, especially when you've got central government telling us to remove as much as we possibly can out of the CBD.”

But Ms Gladding disagrees, arguing without parking provisions for private residents the burden shifts to public spaces to the detriment of the community.

She sees the roll-over on parking as one of the first cuts in the “death by a thousand cuts to the project’s objectives”.

She says she is frustrated to see the chief executive so willing to hand over to the developer exactly what they ask for, especially when she can see the end result may negatively impact on the community.

Also troubling her is what she sees as a reluctance by the chief executive to use the negotiation clause with the developer over material modifications - of which there were more than one in this round of changes.

“Through discussions and emails it has now become abundantly clear that staff don’t want to use the negotiation clause in case it’s seen as heavy-handed and in case it leads to a conflict situation.”

She says it appears attempting to maintain a “good” relationship with the developer is being prioritised as the best bet at achieving the council’s own project objectives.

“So far that seems to mean not saying ‘no’."

This perceived “reluctance of QLDC to push back” has motivated Ms Gladding to seek to re-open a discussion on the delegated decision-making powers Mr Theelen has in regards to Lakeview.

Crux reported last month on her failed attempt at bring a notice of motion to allow councillors to debate and potentially amend the delegation.

“If the full council had been allowed to debate the delegation, it might have reclaimed decision-making power and, in a formal meeting with minutes recorded, it might not have agreed to every one of the latest changes – including the loss of basement parking space. 

“It might have negotiated. But we’ll never know because the debate was blocked.”

Now it can be revealed Ms Gladding has had another go, this time bringing a similar but refined notice of motion, signed by another five councillors and including all Queenstown-Whakatipu Ward councillors.

QLDC 2023 - many elected members are now wanting to review the chief executive's exclusive powers over Lakeview.

“These councillors supported the notice primarily because they thought the full council should be able to debate the delegation and decide where decision-making power should lie – not because they had a clear position on the delegation.  

“They did so despite being put under some pressure not to sign and that’s something to celebrate.” 

However, despite the support for the notice, the mayor rejected the call for a second time.

Mayor Lewers says, “Nothing changed between the first and the second from what I could see”.

He had already decided to flag Ms Gladding’s concerns at the next Audit, Finance and Risk Committee, which will take place tomorrow. 

“I’m hoping that the six that signed turn up tomorrow and are part of the discussion.”

He says he’s also requested a workshop to bring all councillors up to speed on the Lakeview development be added to the council calendar. Members of the public, including media cannot attend workshops, nor are minutes recorded.

He says he contacted five of the signatories to the notice of motion to speak with them – instigator Ms Gladding not among them. 

“I’m getting no pushback on my decisions…from what I can gather from my talk with them individually, they’re comfortable with the pathway I’ve chosen.” 

Will Thursday's council Audit, Finance and Risk Committee meeting mark the start of more democratic control over the $1 billion Lakeview development?

Ms Gladding says as her notices of motion continue to be blocked she sees no pathway by which councillors can reclaim delegated power and that undermines democracy.

However the mayor has confirmed to Crux the delegation can be reviewed if there is a recommendation from tomorrow’s Audit, Finance and Risk Committee to do so, likewise if there is “appetite” from councillors at the private workshop.

This has also been confirmed to Crux by Mr Theelen.

Regardless, Ms Gladding wants to see a culture shift to allow the council’s relationship with the Lakeview developer to be “put in its proper place”.

“The relationship between councillors and the chief executive, and the relationship between the organisation and the community, are undeniably the most important.

“If these relationships, or good democratic process, are being undermined by QLDC’s approach to the Lakeview-Taumata project then something needs to change.

“Perhaps that change starts by recognising that good relationships, if they really are ‘good’, can survive a bit of ‘bad weather’. 

“And logically, the point of having a good relationship with the Lakeview developer is to ensure QLDC can participate in strong commercial negotiations to deliver on the project objectives for the community. 

“There is no sense in incrementally sacrificing the project objectives to protect the relationship with Ninety-Four Feet for its own sake.”

The council chief executive has been approached for comment on the modifications he has signed off on, but no response was received by time of publication.

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