Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gangs of Khandallah

There was a bit of heated discussion around here a few months ago about whether it would be a good thing to restrict ad-hoc infill while encouraging infill in places that have the infrastructure to support it. I put in a submission in favour of that approach, and since then, there's been a lot of generally negative media noise about infill in general, but very little about the notion of targeting such intensification where it would be most appropriate.

A case in point was the recent furore about architect Denis Fortune's threat to build a gang pad on a large Khandallah section, saying that it would be easier to get consent than for the townhouses he was planning. Let's leave aside for the moment the question of whether that was a scurrilous threat, a bad joke or an amusing way of ruffling a few expensive feathers. For me, the question is: is this a sensible location for this sort of infill?

The vicinity of 9 Nicholson Rd, KhandallahA map of the neighbourhood shows that the section is a short walk from the nearest railway station, just around the corner from the local shops, and has three schools within a few minutes' walk. The area is reasonably well served by buses, and looking slightly further afield, there is a large playing field, swimming pool and access to the town belt within 500m. The immediate vicinity is relatively flat, and in general everything suggests that it is a walkable neighbourhood with good access to the city and to local amenities.

What about the section itself?

9 Nicholson Rd, KhandallahAt about 825 sq m, it's slightly less than a quarter acre, but about 4.5 times the size of the sections that the well-loved Wright St houses in Mt Cook are built on. So, putting six townhouses here would be just slightly higher density than was being built 100 years ago. The shape of the section is a bit awkward for that sort of street-facing development, but it could suit a courtyard typology. The fact that it is a corner site means that there's one fewer neighbour to worry about; immediately to the east is what appears to be the carpark for Taste restaurant; and to the south the nearest house is separated from the boundary by what looks to be quite a wide driveway or access strip. Increasing density will of course have some effect on the neighbours, but hardly catastrophic.

Without having seen the site in person, I'd have to say that this is just about as good a candidate site for suburban infill as you can get. It would be sad to lose the trees, but compared to the damage done by scraping the vegetation off six large sections on the outskirts of Churton Park or Newland, it's a relatively low-impact way of housing six households. Of course the character of the neighbourhood will change, but I've never been particularly keen on preserving the "character" of low-density suburbia anyway.

I find the tone of some of the opponents rather grating, especially a letter in today's Dominion Post saying:
"There's still time to do the honourable thing. They should eschew the predicted profit and sell the existing house and property to someone who wants to live there and who will take care of it. The entire neighbourhood will thank them for it."
You have to wonder how much the neighbourhood's thanks will be due to preservation of actual quality of life, and how much because they don't want their fat property values to be diluted by allowing more residents into a tightly-held and desirable suburb. No doubt the good burghers of Khandallah see the proponents of such intensification as "dishonourable" and worse than bikie gangs, but there's something rather reminiscent of cartels in the restriction of supply to maintain high prices.

Of course, Fortune's statements don't really help. I can understand his frustration at the delays and the anomalies in the District Plan, but such a development really should go through the proper process. Perhaps once the District Plan changes have reached the point of specifically identifying "areas of change", this will be one of those parts of town where such infill should be able to happen through a streamlined, non-notified process. I'd still like to see strict controls on the quality of architecture, though not to enforce "historic" character: I'd even prefer an uncompromising Bauhaus design to the sort of gruesome quasi-vernacular pastiche that so often gives infill a bad name. More than that, I'd like to see a coherent plan for the entire neighbourhood, including the adjacent shopping strip and the nearby station, to set this on the way to becoming a proper little town centre rather than disparate assortment of one-off developments.


At 4:00 pm, October 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect some of the concern over this development has come about after what happened around the corner on the old firestation site, (the site that has the smaller sections) opposite ganges Rd,

They ended up with something that does not really fit, and I guess they are afraid of more of the same.


At 4:12 pm, October 12, 2007, Blogger llew said...

Having made such a threat, I think he should be forced to build that gang pad. Teach 'em all.

At 4:21 pm, October 12, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"I suspect some of the concern over this development has come about after what happened around the corner on the old firestation site"

Well, that's the sort of quasi-historical silliness that I can't stand aesthetically, but I think the typology isn't too bad (from very vague memory & that image you link to). Anything that "fits" more with the old architecture of Khandallah would probably be a real stylistic disaster.

At 9:16 pm, October 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying to copy the typology of large suburban houses with medium density housing rarely works well. More stringent planning regulations that focused on maintaining the quality of development and minimising the impact on surrounding neighbours, such as Rescode - the planning guide for residential developments in Melbourne would help curb some of the worst developments that are happening here. The main question with this development seems to me to be is 6 houses too many for the site, not whether there should be medium density development there.


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