History in the taking

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    “First time on the market in 22 years!” the listing screams.

    “A rare gem…spectacular views…” 

    So far, so normal for a Christmas season TradeMe property listing on Waiheke – but this slice of the island comes with baggage, and Heritage with a capital H.

    Because “3, 5 & 7 Glen Brook Road, Omiha. To be sold by deadline sale (by 19 Feb). Undeveloped land comprising of three adjacent separate sites of 640 square meters each zoned for both Residential and Commercial use. Land area sites are ‘as is where is’,” is better known by another much simpler name on Waiheke.

    It’s Rocky Bay Store.

    A few inquiries later to the firm of lawyers in the top of the South Island who are handling this private sale, and it’s quickly affirmed that the “buyer inquiry range is for offers over $1.5 million” and the “older building shown in the photos, mentioned in the LIM as the ‘Rocky Bay Store’ … holds a Council Heritage ID: 20035”.

    Their client “had intended to build there and retire to Waiheke, but has taken another direction”.

    There’s something rather poetic that a year in which Waiheke Comedy staged the hilarious improv soap opera Rocky Baywatch about dastardly developments in Rocky Bay, should end with the potential for precisely that.

    It’s the sort of grim, unpredictable irony that 2020 seems to have delighted in.

    But, back to our heritage. Sorry, Heritage.

    Deep in Auckland Council’s District Plan (operative 2013), under the “schedule of buildings, objects, properties and places of special value – inner islands” Rocky Bay Store turns up alongside Omiha Memorial Hall and the “memorial plinth and flagpole” in the middle of the turning circle. (It’s telling that next on the list is the whole Stony Batter complex of tunnels and turrets.)

    Because residents have fought hard to keep the historic 1920s building – and despite fears it could be pulled down in 2002 and the fire that gutted it the following year, its carcass is still very much there.

    The most recent attempt to rid the island of this most immovable object came last year in the form of a Unitary Plan online submission from the current owner for the “removal of the ‘Heritage’ listing of the derelict building remains of the Rocky Bay Store”. 

    That submission stated the building remains were a significant public health and safety risk and that “‘Heritage’ listing [is] not warranted as what remains of the building is comprised of composite board, burnt out twisted aluminum windows, little of the roof remaining + flooring, walls missing + doors + all sanitary fittings etc Derelict building remains not able to be restored / rebuilt with continued vandalism of site”.

    But as the Nelson firm of lawyers so concisely states – the council heritage listing still applies and the old ruins fight on.

    How this squares with the TradeMe property listing’s claims of a “‘blank canvas’ to develop your own private ‘slice of paradise in the sun’” I’m not sure, but it does helpfully suggest that amidst all this historical significance, you could quite easily create “housing/townhouses or motel units/café” while ending its spiel with the catch-all phrase “Commercial and tourist retail opportunities”.

    So, let’s maybe grasp that final word, at least. Opportunities. Because as that bold black headline proclaims, this is an opportunity that has come around for the first time in more than two decades and provides a very real chance to right the terrible dilapidation this venerable old monument has suffered since that awful October night blaze back in 2003.

    Christmas 2020 throughout the world is going to have far, far less peace, harmony and good will due to the machinations of this catastrophic Covid pandemic and New Zealanders should count themselves almost miraculously fortunate to be able to beetle around preparing for our parties, stripping the supermarket shelves of tasty treats or perfect presents, and decking the halls for festive and New Year’s Eve gatherings. 

    But an awful lot of that luck has been down to how we’ve fought through these terrible times together and highlighted our tiny nation’s commitment to coming together as one community. On Waiheke, it’s been clear through the stories we’ve told week after week in Gulf News that this unity has manifested itself through positive activism, benevolence, kindness and compassion.

    Individuals have reached out their hands to offer help to individuals through what have been some of our darkest days – wouldn’t it also be wonderful if we could also extend a steadying arm to our Heritage, too? • James Belfield

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