Monday, 21 December 2015

For a bigger Khandallah

My submission from earlier this month on the proposed Khandallah medium-density zoning.

1.     Please accept this email as my personal submission on the proposed Khandallah medium-density zoning proposal.

2.     I am an economist who has read extensively on the economics of land-use planning. I received my doctorate in economics in 2003 and lectured at the University of Canterbury from 2003 through 2014, when I moved to Khandallah to take up a position in Wellington. I submit today in my personal capacity.

3.     I support allowing medium-density housing not only in Khandallah but also more broadly throughout the Wellington region. Zoning rules preventing densification within town and preventing expansion in the suburbs have driven New Zealand’s housing unaffordability problems. While that has primarily been an Auckland phenomenon, Wellington remains fairly unaffordable, with median house prices more than five times median income, according to the latest Demographia survey.

4.     It is rather unlikely that medium density housing in Khandallah, on its own, would substantially alleviate New Zealand’s housing affordability problem. But if existing residents in places like Khandallah continue to be able to block new development, housing affordability will continue to worsen – with the worst costs felt by the poor.

5.     I attended the November town hall meeting in Khandallah. Some residents there in attendance raised legitimate concerns about developments that had adversely affected them as neighbours. But the preponderance of criticisms focused on the character of the neighbourhood, the design characteristics of denser developments, and the consultation process.

6.     It would be rather unlikely that a developer would find Khandallah well-suited to low-end units as land prices are too high. Many in attendance at the meeting seemed to fear that very substandard units would be placed next door to them. And the fliers handed out by the anti-development residents’ group emphasised that developers would be likely to use cheap materials and cheap design. But a developer buying land here to subdivide, and who expects to earn a return on investment, would tie up too much capital in the underlying land for that to really make sense – higher-end smaller units are rather more likely.

7.     The residents’ association also worries that more people will worsen road congestion. While it seems unlikely that development would put any substantial burden on Onslow Road or the Ngaio Gorge Road, one can imagine localised issues with on-street parking were a developer to provide only limited off-street parking.

8.    However, the solution to parking congestion is not to block development, nor is it to require developers to put expensive parking in place for future residents who might not want it. Rather, we could learn from other parts of town that have limited parking to those with residents’ passes.

9.     If a new development would be likely to park up a street that is already heavily used for on-street parking, a better solution would restrict parking on that street to those with residents’ passes. Existing resident households could be issued with resident’s parking passes, and the incoming developer could buy some of those passes from the existing residents for use by future residents of the new development. The prospect of selling surplus parking passes to developers might also encourage a friendlier attitude towards neighbouring developments.

10.  Were traffic to increase substantially on Jubilee Road and Izard Road when children are going to or leaving school, Council may wish to provide a footpath on the southern side of Jubilee Road that children would not need to cross a busy road to find a footpath.

11.  The residents’ association also notes their belief that older people do not wish to live in the townhouse-style developments that could be allowed under the new zoning. I am curious why a developer would build such units if there were no demand for them. The developers have their money on the line; I have more confidence in developers’ ability to gauge market demand than I have in the residents’ association’s ability to forecast who might wish to live in which kinds of places.

12.  The residents’ association points to potential crowding at the local school. Cashmere Avenue School has a lovely and large school ground; an extra building or two on the site should not prove a massive hindrance. Many other schools have less ability to expand.

13.  Council asks where medium-density housing development should happen in our suburb. I believe it should happen wherever the owner of a property is able to undertake it without substantial adverse effect on their neighbours’ views or sunlight.

14.  Council asks what standards should be used to manage site design. It would be difficult to specify that without knowing things specific to the location of any proposed development. A four or five-story development built into a steep hillside could be entirely appropriate in some places as it would not impose shade on others nor would it block others’ views. But, in other locations, even a three-story development would block views or restrict sun. Maximum height should be determined by effects on existing neighbours. And, any maxima established to protect neighbours’ sun or views should be waivable by the affected neighbour to allow for bargaining between existing residents and new developments.

15.  Council asks for our views on the town centre. I note that a few of the shops there seem to be languishing for want of foot traffic. Increased density and more people would make shops more viable and make for a more vibrant village environment. Another few hundred people would hardly be to the community's detriment. It is a bit of a shame that these kinds of consultations only are ever able to draw the ire of existing residents who hate change; the views of residents yet to have the chance to be my neighbours are hard to canvass.

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