Historic town split over new centre design

17-OLive-Leaf-building

by PETER OWENS

The historic town of Arrowtown is split down the middle by a proposal to build an olive leaf-shaped centre next to St Patrick’s church.

The Olive Leaf Centre Trust filed an application for a resource consent with the Queenstown Lakes District Council, relating to the Catholic Church property in the town. 

The trust wants to go ahead with an olive leaf-shaped building next to the historic church of St Patrick.  But the trust has been thwarted in its attempts to avoid a Council hearing and the plan will go to a public hearing, which was originally set down for May, but might have to be rescheduled, depending on the Covid-19 alert level.

The proposal has split the small town of Arrowtown, attracting 369 submissions to the Council last year, with 150 of those in opposition.

The proposed Olive Leaf Centre would serve primarily as a church hall which would also include a “Mary McKillop Space”, a “Reflections Room”, a small chapel and other facilities. At a lower level, it would contain visitor accommodation. This would primarily be for the use of visiting clergy and a possible caretaker. The application for a resource consent to the Lakes District Council also notes, “The accommodation does offer an opportunity to raise funds for the ongoing management of the entire site, which includes two historic buildings”.

Colin Bellett, chairman of the Olive Leaf Centre Trust, said the decision to lodge a resource management application came only after many months of detailed planning to ensure the proposed building is compliant with the Council’s guidelines and rules.

“The idea in this case is to make use of a piece of property beside the beautiful and historic Catholic Church in Arrowtown, to build a multi-purpose centre for the use of the whole community as well as for traditional church activities,” Mr Bellett said.

He added that the centre “will be a great asset and gift to the community, accommodating a variety of uses and needs”.

Local architect Fred van Brandenberg, who designed the centre, said in his architect’s statement filed with the Council that, from eye-level, the structure would have “minimal visual impact”, because the building would be sunk 2.2 metres below the level of the existing church. This means that, when erected, the only section above ground level would be the roof.

As for the church itself, Mr van Brandenberg said that, other than a mandatory requirement by the council to strengthen the almost 150-year-old building for earthquake compliance, there are no present plans to alter it.

The site is owned by the Catholic Bishop of Dunedin. When he was Bishop of Dunedin, Bishop Colin Campbell expressed support for the project, provided it could be self-funding. Parish priest Fr Jamie Lalaguna took the same stance.

Opponents of the project say the “modern and futuristic design” is inappropriate in proximity to heritage buildings. Opponents include the Lakes District Museum, the Queenstown and District Historical Society and the Arrowtown Village Association.

According to Queenstown Lakes District Council documents, the Olive Leaf Centre Trust last year applied to avoid a Council hearing and have the application directly referred to the Environment Court. When that was declined, the trust lodged an objection that was heard by a Council-appointed commissioner in September. At the conclusion of the hearing the objection was withdrawn.

Mr Bellett said the Olive Leaf Centre Trust members are preparing for what promises to be a highly-publicised hearing.

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