QLDC no longer opposes US billionaire's Wānaka lodge

by Lauren Pattemore - Mar 08, 2024

The Queenstown Lakes District Council is no longer against American billionaire Peter Thiel's luxury lodge planned for the outskirts of Wānaka after denying him resource consent two years ago.

This change of stance was made public in an Environment Court hearing this week, with the council shifting its position on Mr Thiel's proposal to slot the residence into a hillside at Damper Bay from "opposed" to "neutral".

Upper Clutha Environmental Society chairperson Julian Haworth, also involved in the hearing process, says he's "disgusted" by the council's turn.

Peter Thiel owns 193 hectares of land above Damper Bay and the Glendhu Bay Track (QLDC/eDocs/Resource consent).

"It was pathetic that they (QLDC) didn't defend their decision to reject the resource consent."

An independent hearings panel acting on behalf of the QLDC originally denied Mr Thiel's company Second Star Limited resource consent application in 2022, which Mr Thiel then appealed through the Environment Court.

Landscape architect consultant Richard Denney, who provided evidence for the council in the 2022 hearing, has not returned for the Environment Court case.

When Crux approached Mr Denney with questions on this, his reply was simply, "no comment". However, a spokesperson for the QLDC says it's because his views no longer align with those of the council.

"Mr Denney does not agree with Council’s position not to oppose the granting of consent," the QLDC spokesperson says.

Mr Haworth, of the Upper Clutha Environmental Society, says, instead of Mr Denney, the council brought in a "patsy witness" instead.

Since the 2022 hearing, the council, Second Star Limited, and other submitters have been involved in private mediation, which proved unsuccessful.

The 2022 decision document that denied Mr Thiel's consent said the development, suitable for up to 30 guests and complete with a meditation studio, was rejected because it was too "visually dominant" and eye-catching to the public when walking along the Glendhu Bay Track.

The luxury lodge has been designed by the creators of Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, Japanese architects Kengo Kuma and Associates.

The Upper Clutha Environmental Society is opposed to the development in this week's hearing, as it was during the first hearing in 2022.

Mr Haworth claims the amendments to the proposal, made between the resource consent application and now, are not substantive enough.

He says the proposed amendments to hide the building's visibility to the public include screen-planting of natives and additional planting on the roof of the complex, as well as earthworks.

But he tells Crux he's "sceptical" about these measures.

"They're never going to take the view of the lake away entirely."

Mr Haworth says the society's opposition is because the "massive complex of buildings" in the proposal is not appropriate for an area marked as being an Outstanding Natural Landscape in the council's proposed district plan.

Part of an ONL's classification means limited development can occur in that area.

However, Upper Clutha Tracks Trust treasurer John Wellington says if the development is approved, it could improve access along the Glendhu Bay Track to cyclists.

Mr Wellington says the trust is neutral to the development, but it works as an advocacy group to increase and improve public access on tracks around the area and submitted on Mr Thiel's proposal asking for easements.

In the hearing, Mr Thiel's company upped the offer to provide easements and instead said it would donate $200,000 of the approximate $325,000 needed to realign a section of the Glendhu Bay Track.

The section, stretching from Ironside Hill to Waterfall Creek, is "very difficult" to cycle along and is currently a grade four or five mountain bike track, Mr Wellington says.

With an upgrade and realignment, it will be brought down to a grade three.

Mr Wellington, an elected member of the Wānaka-Upper Clutha Community Board, says the council is also looking to renew another section of the 12 kilometre Glendhu Track near Mr Thiel's development this year.

The proceedings wrapped up in the court on Tuesday (March 5), with Judge Prudence Steven conducting a site visit yesterday (March 6).

Judge Steven has reserved her decision for a later date.

Main image (QLDC/eDocs/Resource consent): An artist's impression of Peter Thiel's planned lodge, designed by Japanese architects Kengo Kuma and Associates, the company who imagined Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium.

Read more: Environment Court to decide Wānaka luxury lodge's future

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