Highlighted area shows Martinborough’s proposed expansion zone. At top left is the main town centre. IMAGE/GOOGLE MAPS

Views divided on Martinborough’s plans for housing expansion

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

A plan to potentially increase housing in Martinborough by almost a third is getting a mixed response in the community.

And even the council says it will be a fine balancing act to allow for growth, while maintaining Martinborough’s character.

But more housing is vital for the town – a strong message that is coming from developers, real estate agents, and the business association.

An investigation into opening up a large block of land for residential development on the town’s southern fringes, within the boundaries of Dublin, New York, Regent streets and Todds Rd, and is being carried out by South Wairarapa District Council.

The Wairarapa Combined District Plan would need to be amended to allow for the urban boundaries of Martinborough to be expanded, which the Martinborough Business Association supports.

Association chairman Peter Couchman said housing was a problem that needed “immediate” attention.

There were extremely limited options for the town to expand, so it was good the council was looking at solutions.

“We have to grow somewhere, and the issue is how do we do it,” he said.

“No one wants to see five-storey accommodation blocks built in the middle of Martinborough, so it has to go sideways somewhere.”

However, the proposal may not enjoy smooth sailing.

“The challenge of where they’re looking at now is there’s a whole bunch of lifestylers out there that possibly won’t even subdivide, so whether [council] are going to achieve the result they want or not we don’t know.

“There’s a lot of long-standing family land in that area.”

Couchman said many residents had approached him saying they bought property in Martinborough because “they weren’t interested in living in suburbia”.

Jim Clark, who lives within the proposed area, said he was “definitely not tempted” to subdivide his 2ha section.

The reason he and his partner bought their Dublin St property in 1990 was because “it was out of town and gave us space”.

Clark was concerned about noise and rate rises, and how the town’s sewage pipes would cope.

He was also worried about the water shortage Martinborough faced every summer.

The proposed growth would “completely change the demographic” of the area, he said.

Council planning and environment group manager Russell O’Leary said it would be a fine balance providing for growth, while maintaining the town’s charm.

Consultation with the community would get under way soon, which would include public meetings.

The area identified for “low to medium density” residential development is about 36ha.

O’Leary said lot sizes had not been pre-determined, as council would be taking direction from public feedback.

“It’s not a matter of us imposing something on the community.

“We’ve got to hear what their various ideas or concerns are, and then factor that in before we do any next step thinking, or start mapping out potential layouts with connecting roads or whatever else.”

Whether landowners were willing to subdivide would determine how quickly the area was developed.

So far, a preliminary site investigation has been undertaken, revealing “no soil contamination” that exceeded national standards.

Council engineers anticipated “no problems” when it came to roading infrastructure, and water supply to the area could be catered for.

Stormwater provision would be the “most complicated” infrastructural issue, but could be addressed with “appropriate engineering solutions”.

Couchman said the association’s goal was to create more jobs in Martinborough, and the biggest challenge was finding workers a place to live.

He said many people working in the town were forced to commute more than 40km from Masterton.

The association believed pressure on housing could be relieved by encouraging property owners with empty houses to rent them rather than operating Airbnbs, potentially by introducing stricter conditions, as well as the council relaxing subdivision fees.