This is a guest post by Biddy Livesey who is a housing policy analyst, researcher, and future resident of Cohaus.

Post Three – Planning for collective housing development: Consenting Cohaus

In this third post on cohousing, we consider how cohousing is supported through the Auckland Unitary Plan, and the specific planning challenge for innovative collective housing development in the inner suburbs of Auckland. 

Planning for cohousing in Auckland 

Auckland Council’s Auckland Plan outlines three key strategic directions for development in Auckland: 

  • Increase the supply of residential dwellings
  • Provide for a quality built environment
  • Provide for a compact city model.

The Auckland Unitary Plan, which is the rulebook for development in Auckland, implements these strategic directions. In a report outlining the costs and benefits of the residential provisions of the draft Auckland Unitary Plan, staff noted that planning regulations can influence housing supply and that the Auckland Council ‘should provide incentives for more efficient use of residential land close to public transport, parks and amenities and where there is existing infrastructure’. 

Within the Auckland Unitary Plan, collective housing is enabled through the Integrated Residential Development rule, which provides for development of an unlimited number of units, and supporting communal facilities, on a site larger than 2000m2. Collective housing development is also enabled on Māori land. The concept of an Integrated Residential Development, which is provided for in all residential zones in the Auckland Unitary Plan, was developed in part response to questions about how the draft plan would provide for retirement villages. When considering the effects of development, a retirement village is a useful comparator to a cohousing development. As Greater Auckland blog has explored, both typologies offer residential units in a medium-density built form, on-site amenities, reduced car parking and facilities for common use. 

We believe that all kinds of collective housing development need to be encouraged to enable Auckland Council to meet the strategic directions for the city. 

Planning for Cohaus

Our proposal for a cohousing development is well-supported by both the Auckland Plan and the Auckland Unitary Plan. The Cohaus site is located at 11 Surrey Crescent, in Grey Lynn. The site is served by frequent bus services to the city centre, and on a future protected cycleway which has already been funded. Cohaus is a short walk to the Grey Lynn Park. We are just steps away from the Grey Lynn shops, and across the road from Grey Lynn School. Our cohousing development will make efficient use of residential land in a community which is well-served by existing infrastructure. 

In March 2018, we submitted our application for resource consent for an Integrated Residential Development. In June 2018, our application for resource consent was notified, with limited notification. Submissions close on 22 July 2018.  

Cohaus and the challenge of ‘character’ 

In developing our resource consent, we have worked with planners at Auckland Council through pre-application meetings, and have made changes to the design to accommodate their requests. Throughout the process, the challenge to our cohousing development has not been that we are increasing the density of residential units, but the fact that our site is located on the edge of the Single House Zone and covered by a Special Character overlay. Our design does not meet the maximum building height standard set by this zone and overlay.  

Location of the site in relation to the Special Character overlay in the western inner suburbs. 

In our opinion, assessing the physical effects of our infringement of the maximum height standard is a simple matter. The Single House Zone is a zone applied block-by-block to reflect existing built form. Surrey Crescent forms the edge of the Single House Zone on the Grey Lynn ridge. Within the Single House Zone and Special Character Overlay, buildings with pitched roofs are permitted to rise to a height of 9 metres. 

Our cohousing development includes a 10.5 metre building on Surrey Crescent. Common concerns about height infringements relate to the potential for overshadowing, and loss of privacy for neighbours. In our proposal, the additional metre-and-a-half of building height is located on the Surrey Crescent edge of the site, where there are no adjacent neighbours. Our modelling shows that the additional building height will not overshadow neighbours. 

rchitectural renderings of Cohaus Surrey Crescent building looking south along Surrey Crescent (left) and north down Browning Street (right).

Judging whether our ‘too tall’ design fits with the ‘special character’ of the Grey Lynn area, is a more complicated issue. Many of the houses in the surrounding streets were built in the late nineteenth century. These houses were built quickly with standard layouts, and decorated with mass-produced wooden ornaments and stained glass windows. Today, the side streets of Grey Lynn are lined with these homes. But the main thoroughfares, such as Surrey Crescent and Richmond Road, have changed. 

Surrey Crescent is a wide road with a range of activities and built forms. Opposite the Cohaus site is a school, and to the west are a series of four- and five-storey apartment buildings. The Cohaus site is large enough to locate our three-storey building on Surrey Crescent, helping to frame the main thoroughfare of Grey Lynn without, in our opinion, negatively affecting the distinct special character of existing houses on the adjacent side streets. 

Area surrounding Cohaus, clockwise from top left: Four-storey apartment buildings west of the site on Surrey Crescent; houses not within the Special Character overlay, south of the site on Surrey Crescent; houses within the Special Character overlay north of the site on Browning Street; Grey Lynn School directly across Surrey Crescent from the site, pictured in 2015 prior to redevelopment (Google Street View). 

This decision about height is critical to our cohousing development. Allowing an additional 1.5 metres of height allows us to build a third storey, comprising four units, on the Surrey Crescent building. If this third storey cannot be built, four households will not be able to live at Cohaus. Affordability will also decrease for other households because the land will be used less efficiently, and the cost of the land will be shared among fewer apartments. As a not-for-profit developer, we do not have a profit margin to trim. All costs are passed to our collective. Our calculations indicate that if the third storey on the Surrey Crescent building can’t be built, the costs of the development will increase to the point where most of our households will not be able to afford to purchase their apartments. 

Our cohousing development illustrates the tension within the Auckland Unitary Plan between the need to increase the supply of houses in Auckland, and efforts to preserve the ‘special character’ of neighbourhoods settled early in the history of colonial Auckland. When this area of Grey Lynn was originally subdivided, the villas provided affordable homes for young couples working as clerks and office workers, teachers or artisans. In 2018, it is critical that efforts to preserve the character of inner city suburbs do not prevent innovative developments which aim to provide affordable homes to Aucklanders, young and old. We look forward to inviting you to visit us at Cohaus! 

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  1. That are issues with the details of unitary plan.

    The height to boundary restriction significantly reduces the feasibility of intensification.

    Land close to city is valuable. If building a three storeys buildings is so difficult, then there is a fundamental problem with the planning system.

  2. The ‘character’ argument is often abused by people who want to stop any development, even if the change has better outcome.

  3. There are plenty of cities in NZ with streets full of old villas so I don’t see why we need such an expensive villa museum in central Auckland. People should feel free to preserve their own piece of history, but I don’t see why they should be allowed to preserve someone else’s just because it looks nice.

  4. This site is on Surrey Cres, where there are many modern, taller buildings. Yes, it may be in the character overlay area, but it is on the very edge. One of the goals of any good planning system should be allowing a sensitive transition between urban styles. This development does just that.

    If Council expects a sensitive design to transition between the character area and the modern buildings, do they really expect that to come on a site that doesn’t have to do so? If they insist on one side of Surrey Cres being allowed to be tall and modern (as any new development will be there) and on the other side of Surrey Cres being only allowed to be villas, then they are mandating an abrupt change between styles.

    That’s not good urban planning.

    Council, please, take this proposal and see it for what it is: sensitive design that transitions well between character areas, and promotes the social objectives laid out in the local board’s plans.

    And Council, please also tell me, who else is providing anything of such quality that is cheaper to live in here? Is Council? I’m quite sick of the ageing population, to tell the truth. Only rich NIMBY’s doesn’t a healthy community make.

  5. As far as face of the buildings to public is concerned, it is a simple yet pleasing design, and in an inner city environment not wasteful of low value front yard space.
    The slight extra height on the street frontage imposes a disadvantage on nobody and should be allowed to go ahead by Council.
    I absolutely endorse Heidi’s comments above. Furthermore, the design is worthy of quality materials for exterior cladding for longevity and best visual effect.

  6. So, one of the main issues is: are we or are we not allowed to build three-storey buildings on a site 2.7 km away from the centre of a city of over a million people.

    Good luck with your application.

    1. Or, if we are not allowed to build a three-storey building 2.7 km from the centre of a city of 1 million people with a housing crisis and a transport crisis stemming from its sprawl: who at Council will bring in the changes required to meet the needs of the vulnerable and young instead of the wants of the well-heeled and old?

  7. I think the Cohaus plans look great and all the best fighting against/with Council. Heidi, it’s sad to read you have a problem with the ageing, most of whom have worked hard, the old?? of which I am one, and the general, unfounded assumptions you make.

    1. I am ageing too. I’m not sick of aged people. I’m sick of the ageing population. In other words, of the change during the last few decades towards fewer and fewer young people. I’m heavily involved in various community groups, and we find it very hard to keep younger people. They often have energy, drive and new perspectives, but don’t stay long due to the cost of accommodation here. A healthy community has all age groups in balance, with many mechanisms for them to mix, enjoy each others’ company, help each other, and learn about others’ needs.

      The red in the right hand map here shows the loss young people between 2001 and 2013. I imagine this will be worse when we get the next census data:

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