Uncertainty clouds Nelson’s first hotel development in decades, because of what a developer says is the proximity of a big community housing planned development

A large American multinational hotel chain has a contract to buy land in central Nelson but is said to now be concerned about who its neighbour could be.

Ramada, owned by Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, has its eye on a site that is currently a bus depot in Bridge Street. It wants to open an 80-room boutique hotel and apartment complex.

The company’s New Zealand development partner confirmed there is a contract on the land, but it is now under review.

It won’t say whether that’s because of recently announced plans for 175 social and affordable homes on a site adjacent, and another nearby.

Crown housing agency Kāinga Ora announced the proposal last month, and that it planned to build on central city land currently owned by the Nelson City Council.

The spokesman for the development partner said they were aware of it, but other factors are also being considered. “Therefore, we are not committed to move forward at this time, and frankly don’t know whether or not we will,” he said.

The 80-room Ramada hotel planned for Nelson would have been the 12th in the Wyndham chain’s New Zealand portfolio, which includes this one in Christchurch. Photo: Ramada

“We are working to understand more about the site and the opportunity, and from there (we) can make a decision on whether or not we will proceed with a development,” the New Zealand division’s senior development manager said.

But a Nelson property investor and developer with indirect links to the hotel proposal said the social housing plan had curbed initial enthusiasm for the site.

Tony Vining said social housing on its own was not the issue, but the scale of what was proposed seemed to be.

Social housing – or public housing as it is becoming known, is described as being for those on very low incomes, who qualify for the Government’s housing register.

“It’s a significant inner-city site. The city has been screaming out for more accommodation for many years, and it would be a very positive thing. Current levels of accommodation in Nelson City mean we’re missing out; not because we don’t have the venues, but we don’t have enough accommodation.”
– Tony Vining

Kāinga Ora has identified Nelson as a key area with which it wants to partner, to increase housing supply in the proportionately high-cost region.

Nelson rents and house prices are slightly lower than national medians, but household incomes (recorded for Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough and the West Coast combined) are more than 20 percent below the national median, resulting in worse housing unaffordability.

The agency proposes that less than 50 percent of the 175 properties in the development would be social housing, with the remainder providing affordable housing in multi-level developments to include space for commercial or community activities at ground level.

Vining is involved in several developments underway in the region and says the planned hotel development would be a better fit for helping re-energise the CBD.

“It’s a significant inner-city site. The city has been screaming out for more accommodation for many years, and it would be a very positive thing.

The bus depot on Nelson’s Bridge St where Ramada had proposed to build the city’s biggest hotel. Photo: Tracy Neal

“Current levels of accommodation in Nelson City mean we’re missing out; not because we don’t have the venues, but we don’t have enough accommodation,” Vining said.

“I’ve heard that the retailers and business owners are concerned that this (social housing project) won’t add any value to the city – to retail.”

The housing project has received wide public support for its potential to not only increase housing supply but revitalise a flagging central city. It has been criticised by others who have tried and failed to get large developments up and running on the council-owned land.

“We’d like to see more people living in the central city and I don’t think these two proposals are in contrast.”
– Rachel Reese, Nelson mayor

The sale of land to Kāinga Ora is subject to a public feedback process.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said use of public and reserve land obtained through the Public Works Act, which made up most of the council’s land portfolio, was often constrained by offer-back clauses.

“If someone came to us with a proposal that was going to achieve the council’s outcomes, which are about increasing housing in the central city, that would be given due consideration, But there’s no requirement for us to go out with a full request-for-proposal process around this one.”

She had met with the hotel group wanting to buy the site and if it did not want to go ahead, other opportunities in the CBD did exist.

Reese said the term “social housing” was changing into something closer to “public housing,” as people across all demographics now struggled to find a place to live. “We’d like to see more people living in the central city and I don’t think these two proposals are in contrast.”

Another angle on the proposed Kāinga Ora social housing plans shows the scale of the project. Image: Supplied

The council said recently there was general agreement that should any development proceed, it would involve high-quality apartment buildings.

Community housing provider, the Nelson-Tasman Housing Trust, has been involved in early-stage talks on the proposed Kāinga Ora development.

The trust’s director, Carrie Mozena says it is not unreasonable for a neighbour to be concerned about what might be happening next door, but it was often misguided. She says “Nimbyism” exists everywhere, but it comes and goes, depending on what’s happening.

“People regularly in the community have a pejorative view of anyone who qualifies for public housing but there is a wide range of life circumstance why they do. In our experience most who qualify for public housing are just trying to live their lives. They are reliable, reasonable tenants.

“It’s only ever a small percentage who cause problems.”

Mozena says what she is beginning to notice is an increasing tolerance for diversity in Nelson; or ‘Yimbyism’ brought about by the social housing developments dotted throughout the community.

The Kāinga Ora proposal is entwined with the current Nelson City centre spatial plan (Te Ara ō Whakatū), aimed at transforming the city centre.

The head of the Nelson-Tasman Chamber of Commerce, Alison Boswijk, says in the years since she was the city’s deputy mayor, the tables have turned on development need, with housing now taking priority over accommodation as an economic driver.

“I’m not hearing from any of the sectors I’m talking to that a hotel is immediately necessary, but that’s not to say that in five years’ time that will still be the case.”

Boswijk says there’s no doubt that additional conference facilities are needed, but housing is the priority.

“I’m the co-chair of the skills leadership group, which looks at workforce development planning for the region, and fundamental to that being successful is having places for people to live.”

An author and freelance journalist based in Nelson, Tracy Neal won journalism awards for her investigations revealing the bogus head of psychiatric services at Nelson Marlborough District Health Board.

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