The other day I outlined some of my initial thoughts on the Unitary Plan – noting that the zoning seems to be fairly bold but not necessarily supported by the more detailed development controls. This is to be expected to an extent, with the plan trying to find a delicate balance between providing for significant growth while ensuring that growth is undertaken in a fairly high quality manner. At a general level, it appears as though the Plan provides for a fairly minimal level of additional development potential as of right (i.e. without needing a resource consent) but leaves open the options for fairly significant additional development potential if a developer is willing to go through the consenting process.

The best way to understand this situation in a bit more detail is to look at some of the most critical controls: whether you need a resource consent to build anything, whether there’s a density limit (and what it is) and what the building height limit is. Let’s start by looking closer at an area where enabling intensification is pretty important – along the inner section of the Western Line, which will be brought much closer (in terms of travel time) to the city when the CRL is constructed. Let’s take a look:

inner-west-zonesRemembering from the legend that the orange/brown colours indicate varying levels of intensity for residential zones, the pink indicates centres, the very light purple/violet is the Mixed Use zone and so forth. The first thing that stands out is how much of this area remains zoned for single dwelling (the white zone), effectively likely to mean very little change from what there is now. This is largely due to the Historic Character Overlay.

Zooming in further, this time focusing on Mt Albert as the area seems to have a pretty broad mix of zones, you can start to see the logic that seems to sit behind the zoning of different areas:mt-albert-zoningThis time I’ve turned on the “Historic Character” overlay, which shows up as diagonal purple stripes – matching up with much of the Single Dwelling zone in areas south and east of the Mt Albert shops.

The existing core retail area is shown in pink as the town centre zone. Areas further southwest along Mt Albert Road – heading towards the intersection with Woodward Road, are purple for the Mixed Use zone – which allows a fairly broad mix of uses from residential to offices to retail activity. There are pockets of the Terraced House and Apartment Building (THAB) zone in areas likely to be within walking distance of the train station or those along New North Road near the Woodward Road intersection. Most other residential areas fall in to the broad “Mixed Housing” zone, with a bit of Single Dwelling in more isolated areas.

Of course this raises a lot of questions – I guess particularly focusing around the question of what level of change is likely to be possible in each of these zones from what’s there now. Answering this question is a bit frustratingly complex. Let’s start with working out whether you’d need resource consent or not just to build a dwelling (regardless of type) on a site in each zone. That seems to work out something like this:

  • Single Dwelling Zone – No consent needed (including the ability to provide a second dwelling within an existing building)
  • Mixed Housing Zone – No consent needed (same provision as above). Up to 4 dwellings per site is permitted, as long as you comply with a whole pile of controls.
  • Terraced House Zone – Yes, full discretionary for fewer than 5 units, restricted discretionary for 5 or more.
  • Mixed Use Zone – Yes. All new buildings require a restricted discretionary consent
  • Local Centre Zone – Yes. Same as Mixed Use zone.

The next question that comes into my mind is which zones have specific density controls – which seems a bit more complex:residential-density-controlsI think the Single Dwelling Zone can’t be subdivided down to anything smaller than 500 square metres, so that provides the density control. The Large Lot zone will be bigger still, though that’s only applied on the very edge of the city so isn’t relevant to the areas we’re looking at. The Mixed Housing zone density control is a little bit difficult to make sense out of. It seems that if your site is less than 1200 square metres then you can do up to four dwellings (well, one per 300 square metres of site), but if your site is more than 1200 square metres and “wide enough” then density limits disappear. The “THAB zone” doesn’t appear to have density limits, which is good. Neither does the Mixed Use zone or the centres zones.

So what about building height – the issue which seems to capture the imagination of scaremongering newspapers and politicians. Height limits seem to be:

  • Single Dwelling – 8 metres (two levels)
  • Mixed Housing – 8 metres (two levels)
  • Terraced Housing and Apartment Building zone – 14.5 metres (four levels)
  • Mixed Use zone – 16.5 metres (four levels) Although in some locations the Mixed Use zone allows for higher heights, such as around Metropolitan Centres and near the City Centre
  • Town Centre zone – 16.5 metres in Mt Albert, a variety of heights elsewhere

You’ll notice that I have said “seems” and “appears” quite often – this is because there are a huge number of precincts and overlays which trump the ‘normal’ rules and in all likelihood I’ve probably missed something. I suppose in essence is seems as though we can make the following observations about the extent of intensification that the Unitary Plan seems to allow.

  1. Relatively little change in terms of the heights/bulk/location of housing in the Single Dwelling and Mixed Housing zone. Small-scale intensification will be possible in th Mixed Housing zone unless site amalgamation occurs in which case we might see Terraced Housing developments or very low-scale apartments – but they’ll need to go through a consenting process.
  2. The potential for more significant change in areas zoned “THAB” or Mixed Use or in the centres. This change can come in the form of increased height limits and the removal of density controls – but all developments will need to go through a consenting process and be assessed against a pretty wide variety of urban design criteria.

I’m finding myself increasingly pleased with the balance between enabling growth and ensuring it’s of a high quality that the Unitary Plan seems to have found. I do still wonder whether density limits are required at all in the Mixed Housing zone (who cares how you slice & dice a certain height and building footprint) and of course there is the parking minimums issue. But aside from that I certainly think it could be a heck of a lot worse.

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  1. I thought you guys would be frothing on the ability in any residential zone to convert an existing dwellings into 2 flats as a permitted activity and NO ADDITIONAL PARKING CONTROLS. Rule

    1. Where a dwelling is proposed to be converted into two dwellings the second dwelling must:
    a. have a minimum GFA of 30m²
    b. have direct access to an outdoor living space. This space may be exclusive to the dwelling or shared with the primary dwelling
    c. have a common wall with the primary dwelling of no less than 3m or share a ceiling with the primary dwelling
    d. comply with the daylight controls in clause

    2. Car parking is not required for the second dwelling.

  2. That’s a pretty neat little invention, enabling houses to effectively split into two. Finally a planning rule to encourage affordable housing!

    1. The great thing is it allows historic and character homes of large size to be repurposed into serving more people without demolition and rebuilding.

      I imaging there are many baby boomer couples out there in very large family homes that they’d be happy to split in two or three to rent or sell to fund retirement.

      That’s the easiest form of intensification.

    1. Yes, that is normally called an apartment block but dont say that too loud. The NIMBYs will have a petition out before you can say “reactionary blue rinse brigade”.

      1. The problem is the word ‘apartment’. I view a terrace house development as a series of apartments but unfortunately the word is usually used in relation to tower blocks (like the Sentinel in Takapuna) and this cross over causes much confusion and provides opportunities for politicians and the media to create hysteria.

        1. I’ve been trying to use the word flat or unit, but those carry some funny connotations too.

    2. I’m pretty sure, that once this is passed, I’ll be able to add a couple of apartments on to the front of my property and keep the nice back yard I have. At the moment I can put just the single house out the front which is a waste of land so I refuse to do it.

      1. Absolutely and by doing that you will be providing cheap housing to two families. The setback rules in particular have been terrible in forcing people to create space on their property that is not really of any use.

        Re your comment on apartments above: I agree that apartment has bad connotations in NZ and “terraced housing” should be used for any single level high density housing.

        On the other hand, I just came from living in a very nice 4 storey apartment block in a nice leafy suburb with trams to the centre running nearby. Each floor had two apartments. Our apartment was 80sqm and had a terrace out the front facing on to the street with trees around. It was a vey pleasant place to live. It isnt about apartments, it is all about design.

        1. I rented a terrace house in Onehunga back in the early 2000’s and it was fantastic, until they pulled the pub next door down and built up close and higher than the place I was in. This was all to the North so it blocked the sun. I can handle no view but no sun is a deal breaker. I moved out pretty soon after that vowing never to buy a place that can have the sun built out.

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