Vacant commercial buildings owned by John Broeren. PHOTO/FLYNN NICHOLLS
The dilapidated state of several prominent buildings in central Featherston continues to outrage locals, putting pressure on the council to pursue legal and regulatory options to get them tidied up.
Sometimes-controversial Wairarapa landowner John Broeren owns at least five such properties on Fitzherbert and Daniell St, including the dilapidated Cox building and the vacant building with the train carriage running out the side.
Business owners, residents, and members of the council have taken to Facebook, calling Broeren’s properties “eyesores”, “dangerous”, and “disgusting”.
Broeren began buying the properties more than 30 years ago, intending to refurbish and develop them.
However, he ceased his first development in 1990 when South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] requested he pay a $10,000 bond [~$20,000 adjusted for inflation in 2022] on a Fitzherbert St house and shop project before SWDC would give a building permit.
Broeren said he felt the $10,000 bond was an unreasonable request to put on a developer, given that he had bought the land for only $3000 [~$7000 in 2022].
He said in 1990 that “Featherston has lost a potential business and an injection of optimism”.
Three decades on, three of his most prominent Featherston buildings are vacant.
Legally, SWDC has limited authority to get the buildings tidied up.
However, the Building Act presented one option.
Should a building be deemed “dangerous or unsanitary” under section 29 of the Building Act, the district council has the power to issue a notice to the owner requiring them to carry out the necessary works to bring it up to standard.
Former South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples said in 2004 the district council issued Boeren with such a notice requiring him to make repairs at 38 Fitzherbert St.
However, last week, Broeren contradicted Staples, claiming he had done repairs and built a verandah on his own accord before Staples’ mayoralty.
A 2014 report by SWDC found that while the buildings were “run-down and somewhat dilapidated”, they did not qualify as dangerous or unsanitary, denying SWDC any authority to tidy up the buildings using the act.
A bylaw for unoccupied commercial buildings could be an option for the district council should it wish to pursue matters.
Upper Hutt District Council created such a bylaw in 2013, giving the council the power to either fine owners for the poor condition of their buildings or have contractors carry out repairs at the owner’s expense.
While SWDC decided against adopting a similar bylaw in 2014, mayor-elect Martin Connelly said the new council could table it.
Another option available to the council would be a rates increase on derelict commercial buildings.
Connelly said that such buildings imposed costs on neighbours and the town.
“If a building is holding the town back, and it doesn’t matter who owns it, the owner has to be put on notice that there will be a cost to that.
“A rates increase on derelict buildings will be an option the council looks into,” Connelly said.
Broeren said that bullies on Facebook and at the council were in no position to tell him how to manage his properties.
“They’re not their buildings; they’re mine; they don’t have a say in it.
“These people have no experience dealing with the council, at applying for consents, and they’re making comments on the internet that can hurt a person and damage a business,” he said.
Broeren said he had been involved in Featherston’s business community for decades.
“I put bullnose verandahs on those buildings, adding character to the town. It’s only 60 minutes from Wellington, but it takes you 60 years back in time.”
He declined to give details of his current development plans due to “commercial sensitivity”, but said that “doing up those buildings is not low on my list”.
“If I do them up, the kids would just have a nicer building to vandalise.”
He also said demolishing the buildings was a possibility.
In response to the uproar on social media, the district council said it viewed Broeren’s buildings and sites as future opportunities for further development.
“Whilst we are working on the longer-term urban outcomes for Featherston through the masterplan, the ongoing management of private buildings is the responsibility of the current owner.”