“We’re not going to give in to the bastards, I would sooner fight until the end,” says
He’s part of a disappearing Auckland breed.
As of the last waterfront market garden owners, he is talking about the 2.4ha Favona site he and brother Rodney own, from where he has fought various battles for years.
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The never-married man living in what most would consider a type of paradise, down a long driveway off Favona Rd on a flat waterfront site surrounded by trees, feels like he’s in hell.
Sitting at the three-seat wood dining table in his low red brick house built decades ago, the rangy well-dressed 70-year-old gazes out the window, directly across the Manukau Harbour.
“We lost our livelihood and got no compensation from the Government,” he complains about the failure of a tomato-growing business in vast long-disused glasshouses, now derelict, behind his house.
The quiet, still, summer seaside vista out his front window brings no peace to this angered heart.
The horticulture failure he blames on the Government for allowing cheap overseas tomato imports to the point that the Bartons shut down, even after building a new $70,000 glasshouse.
“It’s been a very pleasant spot to live, on the Manukau Harbour on a north-facing flat site, but we’d like to move on and not have so much land to look after.”
Barton won’t sell for what he estimates could be a $10m valuation for light industrial-zoned land, compared to $20m he expects if it was zoned for terraced housing and apartments.
Yet Auckland Council only values the Bartons’ place at $4.2m:
• $1m for 5390sq m,14 Favona Rd [rates $3400];
• $1.1m for 6649sq m at 14a Favona Rd [rates $1900];
• $2.1m for 1.1ha at 20 Favona Rd [rates $4800].
“It’d be double the price if it was rezoned. Why should we sell for less? I’d like to relax more, go to Europe, Asia, South America, buy a new car, play golf.”
But the council says if the Bartons want the land rezoned, they must make a plan change application – a process Dudley Barton fears would cost more than $100,000 and as a pensioner, he doesn’t have that.
The council has engaged with him extensively and disputes his assertion about being trapped without the option of selling the properties for their true worth.
Celia Davison, central/south planning manager, wrote to Barton on October 30: “Your properties are not locked up and prevented from urban development use. Should you wish to redevelop your properties, then you will need to obtain resource consent from Auckland Council.”
She then cited the spectre of a new vehicle crossing, new activity, change of type activity and construction of buildings not permitted in the zone.
Any application for non-complying uses on that waterfront land might well be rejected, especially off that narrow part of busy Favona Rd near a blind bend. But Barton is still adament it’s all so unfair.
Then there’s the neighbour: Market Cove, a long-planned housing development by John Sax and Southpark, designated a special housing area. If that land is zoned for housing, Barton demands, why won’t the council zone his land the same? However, Market Cove is off a straight stretch of road and is a special housing area.
But it’s not just the zoning that bugs Barton.
He refused to pay rates, based on the existing land zoning, claiming that even as light industrial he was being charged too much because the assessment of value was too high.
That got to the point where he said the council claimed $400,000 in unpaid rates and penalties, resulting in threats of a court action. Eventually an agreement was reached and he paid a much lesser sum but he still remains sore about that.
And he’s unhappy with the around $10,000 current annual rates on the place, which the brothers fund partly by renting one of their three houses for $600 per week.
And it’s not just the rates.
A new coastal walkway is being developed in front of his house, which leaves him feeling threatened and vulnerable by what he fears will be hordes of walkers.
He tried to stop that with his own body, planting himself in the workers’ path. That resulted in a trespass notice being served on him by the police, he acknowledges. He feels no remorse.
“I call them the red coats,” he complained of high-vis vest-wearing workers with vehicles zipping down the new pathway. Ironically, one of the reasons Barton wants his land zoned housing is “so everyone can enjoy this view” yet when it comes to the walking path and the spectre of others seeing what he sees, that’s not something he approves of.
Then, there are the ever-expanding mangroves: in the 1970s, Barton recalls how he and his family could step off their front lawn, on to the seabed, then easily swim in the Manukau. He remembers long rambles around the water’s edge. A White’s Aviation aerial photo of his property on the wall is physical proof that once there were no mangroves outside his place.
Now, mangroves populate the seabed almost as far as the eye can see, preventing him from getting anywhere near the water.
“We used to pull them out at first,” Barton remembers of the vegetation he so hates. “I’d get three or four workers from the glasshouses and we’d come down but eventually we gave up.”
Barton v mangroves: another battle lost.
He can see John Logan Campbell’s plinth puncturing the skyline atop One Tree Hill Maungakiekie. The spire of Onehunga’s Our Lady of Assumption looking like a child’s drawing from this distance.
Yet he fumes into the distance: “Central government ruined our livelihood. Local government ruined the value of our land.”
Barton can’t see why the council can’t just change his zoning in the bat of an eyelid.
“The neighbour’s light industrial land is valued at around only $200/sq m but other neighbours’ terraced housing and apartment land is valued at $800/sq m. Why can’t the zoning on this land be changed for housing too?”
Auckland councillor Christine Fletcher supports Barton.
“I have met with him on three occasions and facilitated meetings for him with council planners. I have considerable sympathy for his situation,” she said. Options of him joining a developer or real estate company were canvassed and she acknowledged he had been trying to sell since 1996.
But she also noted how industrial land prices are far lower than for housing. The property has no wastewater connection and septic tanks are being used, limiting opportunities, she noted.
But John Duguid, council plans and places general manager, said most properties north of Favona Rd were, like the Bartons’, zoned business or light industrial. The neighbouring lots, such as at Market Cove, were only rezoned residential when they were put forward to become a special housing area.
Barton’s battle isn’t over. He vows to continue fighting for what he sees as justice – living in paradise, going through his own personal hell.