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Mixed use development – Church Lane, Queenstown

Fast facts

Location: Between Church and Earl Streets, central Queenstown, Otago

Timeframe: Around seven years, from 2000 to 2007 (from purchase of site to completion of construction), with one undeveloped lot remaining

Developer: Arrow Farms (John Martin, John Guthrie, Bryan Collie and the late Howard Paterson)

Owner: Various (subdivided into 14 lots; some re-amalgamated)

Designers: Archimedia for the original concept; Archimedia, 2 Architecture Studio, Jackie Gillies, Noel Tapp, Maurice Orr and Architectural Design Queenstown for the individual buildings

Case study researcher: Rosalind Groves, John Edmonds and Associates Ltd

Key statistics

Site area: 2,993m2

Site coverage: entire site 75 percent; each lot 73–100 percent

Buildings: two to three storeys

Maximum height: 8.5m

Total floor area: 5410m2

Current uses: Retail: 623m2

Offices: 1,567 m2

Visitor accommodation: 1,220 m2

Restaurant/bar/café: 1,693m2

Vacant: 307m2

Introduction

Church Lane is located in central Queenstown, between Church and Earl Streets near the edge of the town centre, close to the Lake Wakatipu waterfront. The Church Lane development demonstrates how quality urban design outcomes can result from negotiations between private developers and councils. Discussions between the Queenstown Lakes District Council (the Council) and site owners led to the creation of a pedestrian walkway and design controls attached to land made available for commercial development.

Church Lane mixed use design elements include:

  • mixed use: retail, office space, restaurants and visitor accommodation

  • building heights stepped back from Lake Wakatipu to maintain views

  • varied building designs with verandas, balconies and use of local materials

  • internal pedestrian-oriented public space

  • incorporation of heritage elements.

Aerial view of Church Lane development near the edge of central Queenstown.

Queenstown Lakes District Plan, with Church Lane development marked in red.

Design processes

The design process started in the mid-1990s when the private developers who owned Williams Cottage sold it to the Council. Williams Cottage is a Category I Historic Place and is believed to be the earliest remaining cottage in Queenstown. Williams Cottage is part of the Marine Parade Historic Precinct in the Partially Operative District Plan, recognised by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust for its aesthetic, architectural and historical significance.

The Church Lane development is located on land that was recently occupied by the Mount Cook Landlines bus terminal. At the time of applying for consent to develop the site, the bus terminal was no longer in use. The bus terminal was used for long-distance bus services and ski shuttles to nearby ski fields (Coronet Peak and The Remarkables), before the owner, Mount Cook Group, sold or divested the bus services and ski fields. The site was zoned Commercial in the former Transitional District Plan, and Queenstown Town Centre Zone in the then Proposed District Plan (now the Partially Operative District Plan).

Operating as Arrow Farms, four local developers, John Martin, John Guthrie, Bryan Collie and the late Howard Paterson, bought the former bus terminal in 2000 for around $2 million and had previously purchased two smaller sites adjoining it. The developers commissioned Archimedia (architecture, interiors and urban design) to design a modulated building for the entire site, in keeping with the bulk and location provisions of the District Plan.8

The developers then examined the viability of finding tenancies for one large building and, as a result, considered a series of individual buildings as an alternative way to develop the site. The developers and the Mayor of Queenstown at the time, Warren Cooper, discussed the site and, in particular, site coverage. Archimedia reviewed the original design for creating individual lots. The idea of a pedestrian walkway to utilise the non-site coverage area was considered and discussed with the Council and its regulatory services provider at the time, CivicCorp (now Lakes Environmental, a council-controlled organisation). The ideas for the site, being a series of individual buildings with individual lots, were accepted in principle by the Council.

Archimedia devised the design controls that would be attached to the title of each new lot. These were based largely on studies into pedestrian spaces, including an assessment of the successful and not so successful aspects of nearby Ballarat Mall. The pedestrianised Ballarat Mall contains a mix of retail and other activities and is on a larger scale than Church Lane. An informal workshop process between the developers and their team of architects, planners, surveyors and lawyers refined the overall design and led to the preparation of the Church Lane resource consent application.

The developers applied for consent in 2000 to amalgamate the existing titles that comprised the bus terminal and adjoining sites, and then subdivide the site into a different configuration of 14 smaller lots fronting the new pedestrian walkway. Consent was also sought to exceed the site coverage rule in the District Plan, which contains a rule for maximum building coverage of 70 percent for the Church Lane site. The development proposed 73–100 percent site coverage for each individual lot, or approximately 75 percent overall site coverage.

The District Plan site coverage rule was interpreted by the Council as applying to the individual lots created, with the view that the ‘spirit’ of the rule is to restrict the overall coverage of an entire combined site. CivicCorp did not believe that the District Plan fully anticipated the type of title structure created through the Church Lane subdivision. CivicCorp considered that the effects on the built environment of the Church Lane proposal with 75 percent site coverage would be reduced because of the individual building design rather than a strict adherence with the 70 percent site coverage rule.

The District Plan contains different building coverage rules for each special character area identified in the town centre. The relevant rule for Special Character Area – Precinct 2, within which Church Lane is located, specified a maximum building coverage of 70 percent. In contrast, the building coverage rule for the adjacent Special Character Area – Precinct 1 (which includes Ballarat Mall and other pedestrian walkways and lanes within the heart of the Queenstown town centre) is:

Minimum building coverage – 95%; except where a public open air pedestrian link to an existing or proposed walkway is provided, the minimum site coverage can be reduced by the amount necessary to provide for that link.

The subdivision application created 14 developable lots and set aside one lot for the pedestrian walkway, to be called Church Lane. Church Lane Management Limited was established for the maintenance of the walkway, to be held in equal ownership by the surrounding lot owners. A right-of-way restrictive covenant under Church Lane Management Limited covers specified design elements, including:

  • maintenance of the streetscape

  • verandas and balconies at first and second levels

  • a high standard of development and landscaping

  • noise controls.

The covenant or legal restriction was attached to the new Certificate of Titles, with design controls for developing the individual lots, including the following:

  • not permitting detached or semi-detached building forms

  • proposals for new buildings to be subject to the written approval of the Queenstown Heritage Trust

  • stepping the development back from Lake Wakatipu to maintain views from the upper levels of future buildings through height controls.

The application was considered on a non-notified basis under delegated authority. Once consent was granted, subdivision and sale of the lots followed. When the final lot sold in 2004, the 120–160m2 sections were considered affordable commercial land for central Queenstown. Other than the Paterson estate, the original developers have all retained some ownership. For example, John Martin kept one lot and bought two more to develop the Spire Hotel, boutique visitor accommodation, and Inspire restaurant.

Urban design issues

The main urban design issues that arose during the development process were:

  • developing the site in an alternative way to the District Plan by exceeding the site coverage rule

  • ensuring that future buildings on the site would be developed to a high urban design standard

  • establishing and maintaining a pedestrian walkway through the site

  • protecting historic buildings and heritage elements, while enabling predominantly modern building designs rather than historic reproductions

  • making effective use of high-value land in central Queenstown through a mix of uses.

These issues were negotiated between the private developers and the Council through the pre-application and consent application processes. Design controls were attached to the new titles to ensure that buildings would be designed and built to a high standard. A covenant attached to the new titles also ensured that the walkway would be established and well maintained. Each lot was developed by the new owners in accordance with the design controls and through individual resource consents. A design review panel was set up to ensure that the original developers approved the design of each new building. The design process pre-dated the Queenstown and Wanaka Urban Design Panels, which were established in 2004.

The development process included protecting the existing historic buildings and some interpretations of the original built fabric through sympathetically designed extensions to Archer Cottage. Most of the building designs within the lane are contemporary, rather than historic single storey reproductions with a residential style and pitched roofs as described in Special Character Area – Precinct 2 of the District Plan.

The contemporary style has raised concerns because of its introduction of a design vocabulary that has nothing to do with the Queenstown town centre history. However, the end result is a design that fits well with the Queenstown town centre which is characterised by small lots and buildings of two or three storeys. Building designs that are considered appropriate for Queenstown are described in the Draft Queenstown Town Centre Building Design Guidelines, released in May 2007. The Church Lane buildings set a positive example for the Queenstown town centre with small section sizes and diverse building forms. This is reinforced by the façade design, with different pallets for each building made out of stone, plaster and weatherboard that complement the adjoining Queenstown buildings.

Property owners in high-priced central Queenstown face the challenge of what to do with the upper floors of their commercial buildings so as to make an economic return. If office tenants cannot be found, visitor or residential accommodation may be considered. Having residents living in the town centre is viewed as positive: they provide ‘eyes on the street’. In contrast, visitors may not be aware that their accommodation lacks, for example, noise-insulated windows. This can lead to a disappointing visitor experience. The Council intends to notify a district plan change for the town centre in the next few years to address noise and other matters.

Urban design principles are gradually being interpreted for the Queenstown context, through the Urban Design Panels, guidelines and district plan changes. For example, a district plan change for ‘Improving Amenity in the High Density Residential Zones’ includes an interpretation of the seven Cs for multi-unit developments within those zones.

Evaluation of urban design principles

Context

Queenstown is experiencing rapid development; the Queenstown Lakes District area was the fastest growing area in New Zealand between 2001 and 2006. Many of the growth pressures that the Queenstown faces are driven by forces outside of the district. The district is an international tourism destination that supports economic growth across the southern part of the South Island, and draws in a large amount of investment – both local and international – in homes, services and visitor-related activities.

Church Lane is bounded by Earl and Church Streets near the edge of the Queenstown town centre. The site is within five to 10 minutes’ walking distance of nearby hotels and other visitor accommodation, the Queenstown Gardens scenic reserve, Lake Wakatipu waterfront and public car parking. The Church Lane development relates well to its setting within the town centre and provides an interesting public space, as well as commercial opportunities.

The mix of uses within Church Lane contributes to Queenstown’s predicted growth requirements through the provision of additional retail and business floor space. The development contributes positively to the vitality and viability of Queenstown through its central location and effective use of existing resources (land and infrastructure). The development avoids concerns such as fragmenting the town centre or inappropriately locating business activities outside the town centre.

Mixed use development of Church Lane, with bars (left) and hotel accommodation (right).

Church Lane steps connecting through the lane from Marine Parade.

Character

Historic buildings surrounding Church Lane include Archer Cottage and Williams Cottage. Williams Cottage displays the early (colonial) architectural vernacular of residential buildings as described in the District Plan: small-scale, single storey, with a pitched roof and set back from the street.

Development of the lane has facilitated the protection and restoration of those historic buildings. The buildings have modern uses: Williams Cottage is a design store and café; Archer Cottage incorporates sympathetic extensions and contains legal offices. The contemporary building designs within the rest of Church Lane, however, are not consistent with the historic character described in the District Plan, but create locally appropriate architecture and spaces.

The lane provides view corridors towards the iconic Remarkables mountain range and the hills behind Queenstown. The upper levels of the buildings within the lane have views towards Lake Wakatipu. The lane has a visually interesting roofscape when viewed from the many elevated vantage points within and around the town centre. The human scale of the lane ensures it does not attempt to detract from the grandeur of the surrounding mountain scenery.

The buildings along the lane relate well to one another through strong horizontal elements – windows and verandas or balconies. The buildings are of contemporary design and include interpretations of traditional features, such as decorative balconies. Balconies and verandas were required by the design controls attached to each lot.

Detailed building articulation provides interest to the front façades. Each storey is broken up with detailing at the human scale, including doors and recessed windows. Timber screening is used to provide privacy for upper level apartments or to conceal air conditioning units. The colours used for the buildings are subtle and natural.

Use of locally appropriate materials, such as copper and stacked schist, alongside modern materials, reflects Queenstown’s geology, heritage and emerging urban character. The materials and colours reflect what is increasingly being recognised as the local vernacular, incorporated into modern architectural design.

Looking into Church Lane between Williams Cottage (right) and Archer Cottage extension (left).

Choice

Church Lane contributes towards the vibrancy and vitality of the Queenstown town centre by providing a mix of ground level retail, restaurants and a café, and upper level visitor accommodation and offices within a pedestrian-friendly environment. The mixed use characteristic of the lane is partly a result of building owners finding financially viable tenants (such as offices or visitor accommodation) for the upper floors of the commercial buildings, and applying for consents for changes of use if required by the District Plan.

The buildings generally have flexibility to respond to changing demands in the future through changes of use. Changing to less compatible uses, such as visitor accommodation next to late-night bars, can lead to conflicts or reverse sensitivities over noise and nuisance, as has occurred in Church Lane. Conflicts need to be resolved through design and location so that residential and commercial activities in the town centre can be acceptably combined.

The lane is generally accessible and disability-friendly, apart from one section near the café that has several sets of steps but does not include a ramp.

Connections

The creation of a public walkway is a vital part of the success of the Church Lane development. The walkway links the development to the rest of the Queenstown town centre as well as other nearby amenities. The lane links to the historic grid pattern of streets, with entrances or exits off Church Street, Earl Street and Marine Parade. The buildings connect with adjoining development, including construction around historic St Peter’s Church at the northern end of the block.

The lane contributes to the historic pattern of pedestrian linkages in Queenstown – an important means of promoting pedestrian permeability throughout the town centre. If town centre traffic and parking issues are resolved, and visitor numbers continue to increase, it is likely that Queenstown will become more pedestrianised over time. As Lou Alfeld, the local urban design champion commented:

Queenstown has a special pedestrian flavour that encourages leisurely exploration by tourists. Urban design needs to reinforce the human scale, and sense of delight and discovery.

The lane is inward looking and creates an inviting environment at an intimate, human scale. The public space provided by the walkway can be a quick thoroughfare or place of exploration. The entrances to the lane, however, can somewhat inhibit pedestrian entry because they are partly concealed by angle car parking and loading zones along the adjacent streets. The lack of visibility may hamper visitors unfamiliar with Queenstown from finding or entering the lane. The lane is near the edge of the town centre; this is an unavoidable limitation to pedestrian activity.

Church Lane connection to Marine Parade.

Church Lane connection between Church Street and Earl Street and the Novotel Hotel.

Creativity

Establishing a walkway through the site, with increased site coverage and retail frontage, was a resourceful way to make use of the high-value land. Individual development of each lot has enabled varied building designs. The buildings along Church Lane are of different styles because they have been designed by different architects. Despite differing designs and construction times, the buildings have been built to a high standard, and relate well to one another, the lane and surrounding streets. This is largely a result of the design controls attached to the Certificate of Title for each lot. Each new building required the approval of the original developers to ensure that the designs were compatible with their vision for the lane.

Custodianship

Because consent was obtained for a higher intensity of building coverage, the site has been developed effectively and efficiently, while creating a valuable public space. The public walkway is held in equal ownership by the individual lot owners, ensuring that it will be maintained to a high standard in the future. Good lighting provides a safe environment to walk through. Verandas on some buildings provide protection from the weather, keeping the lane attractive and convenient for pedestrians. Local materials, such as schist, have been used for some buildings.

Collaboration

The overall design and site development process was the outcome of negotiation between the private developers and Council. The Council was supportive of the creation of a public walkway and, as a result, a better quality urban design outcome was achieved than was generally anticipated by the District Plan, despite concerns over heritage values.

Lessons learnt

The modern building designs within Church Lane are considered to be attractive and appropriate for the Queenstown town centre. However, they are contrary to the Special Character Area – Precinct 2 as described in the District Plan.

District plan rules that restrict flexible design options may not always lead to quality or creative urban design outcomes. Negotiation between the private developers and Council has resulted in the establishment of a public walkway space within the development. Had the developers chosen a conventional building layout, the walkway may not have been established.

Providing connections that simply allow through-access for pedestrians is generally considered to be insufficient. A considerable weight of evidence indicates that there must also be attention to the quality of those connections if they are to attract use. The management of the street edges of Church Lane do not encourage pedestrian access. The entrances from both Church and Earl Streets are somewhat obscured from general view by car parking and loading zones on adjacent streets.

There is no pedestrian crossing or other active or passive visual cue, such as landscaping, to encourage people walking from the main town centre to cross Church Street and enter the lane. Although Church Street is one-way, it has a regular flow of traffic that, together with the angle parking, can make crossing the street difficult and potentially unsafe.

At present, there is no clear and inviting pedestrian connections from the lane to the rest of the town centre. In between Church Lane and the main town centre is a disused minigolf site above an underground public car park. This site has a footpath through to Searle Lane, which in turn connects to Ballarat Mall and beyond. The minigolf site has been vacant for some years and is owned by one of the developers who established Church Lane, John Martin. The developer’s intention is that a walkway will be maintained through the site during planned development into retail and commercial buildings.

The lack of visibility and welcome, combined with the lane’s location near the edge of the town centre and lack of clear connection to the rest of the town centre, along with the consequent effects on levels of foot traffic, has meant that ground level retail in Church Lane is not thriving as well as might be expected in a popular tourist town. Recent retail and commercial development around St Peter’s Church adjoining Church Lane may attract further people to the block and into the lane.

Quality urban design encourages a diversity of activities within mixed use developments. Such developments create interesting and vibrant street life and have economic advantages over single-use developments, by combining uses that can support one another, such as accommodation next to town centre retail activities. Mixed use developments, however, have to be designed to resolve reverse sensitivity conflicts, such as noise.

The location of the mixed uses and adequate design features, including insulation and air conditioning, should be considered during the early design phase of a development. Because of inadequate design features and the inappropriate location of uses in Church Lane, the Spire Hotel patrons have suffered from excessive noise from the late-night bars in Church Lane and the bars have suffered from noise enforcement action taken against them. The Council, landlords and bar owners have met to discuss the difficulties of noise control, and the Council is assisting bar owners to comply with the District Plan noise standards. Physical alterations, such as installation of double doors to the bars, may be required to reduce the noise.

Value gained

Church Lane is an example of a mixed use development with a blend of retail, restaurants, bars and cafés, offices and visitor accommodation.

The individual buildings consist of:

  • 8 Church Street – ground floor retail (Air New Zealand Holidays,150m2 floor area), Thai restaurant (150m2) on the first and second floors

  • 10A Church Street (1 Church Lane) – ground floor retail (real estate agent and computer shop, 140m2), offices/apartments on upper two levels (286m2)

  • 10B, 10C and 10D Church Street (3–5 Church Lane) – ground floor restaurant (Inspire, 482m2), hotel on upper two floors (Spire Hotel, 964m2)

  • 12 Church Street – restaurant/bar on ground and first floor (Monty’s, 388m2)

  • 12B Church Street and 17B Earl Street – ground and first floor restaurant/bar (12 Bar, 540m2)

  • 9A Earl Street – ground floor retail (art gallery, 128m2), upper levels offices/apartments (256m2)

  • 9B Earl Street (7 Church Lane) – ground floor retail (British Lolly Shop, 79m2), upper levels apartments (158m2)

  • 11 Earl Street – ground floor retail (art gallery, 126m2), upper floor offices (252m2)

  • 13 Earl Street – vacant site (151m2)

  • 15 Earl Street – ground floor currently vacant (156m2), first floor offices/apartments (156m2)

  • 17A Earl Street – ground floor café (133m2), first floor legal offices (133m2)

  • 17 Marine Parade (Archer Cottage) – ground and first floor legal offices (Anderson Lloyd, 740m2)

  • 21 Marine Parade (Williams Cottage) – Vesta café and design store.

Church Lane is linked to other developments within the block, including recent development around historic St Peter’s Church consisting of a café and retail space, and the Marine Parade Historic Precinct, including apartments under construction.

Church Lane provides a pedestrian-friendly environment within the town centre. The lane contributes to health benefits by encouraging walking, as well as providing a sense of discovery as people walk through it. The lane provides a pedestrian connection to an adjacent hotel on Earl Street, the Queenstown Gardens, a hospitality college and beyond to the wider residential and visitor accommodation areas of Queenstown.

By subdividing the development into individual lots, a diversity of building designs has been able to be constructed. The buildings have been established to a high standard, with a variety of contemporary designs that relate to the character of the town centre and that use local materials.

Conclusion

The small-scale mixed use development of Church Lane in the Queenstown town centre has resulted in contemporary building designs with a wide range of uses. It provides a pedestrian-friendly environment that adds to the relaxed Queenstown town centre streets and laneways.

Some aspects of Church Lane could be improved. A ramp replacing one set of steps near the café would improve the lane’s accessibility. The Council and lane owners and occupiers could work together to make the entrances to the lane more inviting, for example, by reconsidering the appropriateness of angle car parking in Church and Earl Streets, or at least immediately surrounding the entrances to the lane. A pedestrian crossing, coloured paving stones or other landscaping cues on Church Street would assist in linking the lane to the rest of the town centre. It is hoped that the disused minigolf site will be redeveloped with the proposed pedestrian link through it to Church Lane.

By working to resolve noise conflicts, the Council and lane owners and occupiers will ensure that mixed use remains a viable and vibrant development form for Church Lane, as well as providing guidance for future mixed use developments in other parts of the town centre.

Resources

Ministry for the Environment 2005a. New Zealand Urban Design Protocol. Retrieved from http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/urban/design-protocol-mar05/index.html (15 April 2008).

Ministry for the Environment 2005b. The Value of Urban Design: The economic, environmental and social benefits of urban design. Retrieved from http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/urban/value-urban-design-full-report-jun05/index.html (15 April 2008).

Ministry for the Environment 2005c. Noise management in mixed-use urban environments. Quality Planning website guidance note. Retrieved from http://www.qualityplanning.org.nz/plan-topics/noise-management.php (15 April 2008).

Mountain Scene 3 May 2007. ‘Christmas wishes’.

North Shore City Council 2005. Good Solutions Guide for Mixed Use in Town Centres. Retrieved from http://www.northshorecity.govt.nz/YourCouncil/Planning/UrbanDesign/Documents/mixed-use-guide-2005-sm.pdf (15 April 2008).

Queenstown Lakes District Council 2007. Draft Queenstown Town Centre Building Design Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.qldc.govt.nz/home/our-projects/queenstown-town-centre-strategy/ (15 April 2008).

Queenstown Lakes District Council 2007. A Growth Management Strategy for the Queenstown Lakes District. Retrieved from http://www.qldc.govt.nz/ (15 April 2008).

Queenstown Lakes District Council 2004. Partially Operative District Plan. Retrieved from http://www.qldc.govt.nz/ (15 April 2008).

8. For the purposes of this case study, ‘District Plan’ refers to the plan at the time, the Proposed District Plan (1995).