Seven of 10 Rotorua reserve sites identified for revocation and sale for housing have progressed to the next stage.
The decision was made at a Rotorua Lakes Council Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, in a marathon three-hour session that became heated at times, with accusations of "electioneering".
About 40 people filled most of the public gallery for the debate and decision, which had caused heated public debate in the months leading up to it.
The proposal set out to revoke the reserve status of 10 sites in order to sell them for a mixture of public and open-market sale for housing . It had attracted more than 600 submissions , petitions with thousands of signatures, and more than 100 people providing verbal submissions over four days of hearings.
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Thursday's decision marks recommendations to the council, which will make the final decision on the reserves on August 25.
Gallagher St Reserve progressed for revocation by one vote, while Lee Rd Reserve's progression for revocation – and thus retention as a reserve – was halted by one vote.
Coulter Rd Reserve was also retained, and Steeles Lane Reserve was designated as "unfeasible" for development due to geotechnical issues.
Linton Park West will progress to be considered by the council for revocation, but not for sale until further consultation is done with the community.
Turner Drive, Park Rd and Gallagher St reserves would progress through a two-stage process for sale – first right of refusal to mana whenua – something Te Tatau o Te Arawa had argued for in its submission – then a formal expression of interest process.
Glenholme Reserve – 171 Clinkard Ave – would be the only site sold directly to Kāinga Ora. The original proposal floated six of the sites for sale to the public housing provider.
In May, Local Democracy Reporting revealed Housing Minister Megan Woods' office had suggested the use of reserves for temporary housing to the council, an idea that later morphed into a proposal to revoke reserves for permanent housing.
In the meeting, council officers took aim at suggestions, raised by councillor Tania Tapsell, that the Government was responsible for the proposal.
Tapsell said she believed the process had cost the council a lot.
"Are we able to send a bill back to [Housing] Minister [Megan] Woods who started this all, when she said 'what have you done?'"
Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston said Tapsell was "misinterpreting" the message from the Minister, saying the suggestion was brought to elected members for in-principle support.
"All costs incurred have been costs we've chosen."
Gaston said the discussion on reserves had arisen first from a consideration of how well the reserves network was performing against its Open Space Level of Service Policy, and where reserves were not meeting standards, they were considered for housing due to the housing crisis in the city.
He said a view had emerged from submissions that the proposal was "an attempt to steal our reserves, satisfy a back-room deal".
He said the district's reserves had an issue with "quantity over quality".
Gaston also admitted there had been issues with the timing of information sent out to property owners, with the submission period lengthened as a result, and the council had struggled to adequately communicate with non-ratepaying residents.
He said a pamphlet drop, which had been avoided due to cost, "might have been more effective".
Councillor Raj Kumar said controversy may have been avoided if closed-door workshops on the proposal had been open to the public.
Gaston said if the council had consulted with the community on an under-developed proposal it would have been told "you need to do some work" and investigations were required to assess whether the proposal was viable.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she believed criticisms of staff had been unfair as the proposal was worked on at the instruction of the council.
"What worries me is the storm in a teacup that happened when we looked at what was fair and reasonable for us to do. What was the use of our reserves … and are there opportunities to use part of [them] or revoke [them]."
She said she enjoyed listening to submitters but found suggestions the council was trying to restrict access to green spaces "really hard to take" as the former Conservation Minister.
Chadwick also claimed elected members had unanimously supported the proposal until it was revealed in the media.
"Developers come to the table – help us. This is, for us, a crisis that we have to solve together."
Councillor Raj Kumar said he didn't think there was a housing crisis in Rotorua because house sales and demand appeared to be dropping.
"I don't think I ever remember saying let's sell any of the reserves.
"Shall we just leave the reserves today?"
Chief executive Geoff Williams said staff had acted on a "unanimous" vote to undertake work that led to the proposal.
“You have been very clear with us to do everything we possibly can to address housing in this district."
The committee then took each reserve one by one, and while discussing Wrigley Rd Reserve councillor Raj Kumar, who is running for mayor of the district, said while Fordlands Community Centre's submission had been "very powerful" it "lacked any substance" as to where funding would come from in order for it to lease land revoked as a reserve for housing.
Councillor Mercia Yates called a point of order for incorrect information.
"I don't mind calling you out."
She said the submission had "very clear information" on how to achieve its aims.
Kumar said he believed the submission was "more emotional than anything else".
Yates said the submission was "articulate and clear".
"I'm offended to even hear that discussed at our table and if you're electioneering, this is not the place."
Tapsell called a point of order saying "we need to keep cool minds".
"We need to stay calm and we can't get angry when we need to make decisions."
Kumar said "take a break".
Yates said she didn't need to take a break.
Voting on each part of the proposal was split into 17 separate motions and varied from motion to motion. Voting records will be available in the published minutes of the meeting, available from the council.
The council meeting, where councillors will decide the final fate of the reserves, will be held in the Rotorua Lakes Council chamber on August 25 and is open to the public as well as livestreamed through the council website or its Youtube channel.
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