“It looks a lot taller than I expected it to be.” That was what people said when the Events Centre was being built in the mid 1990s on Queens Wharf. And now people are saying it again, this time about the new apartment block that is replacing the Overseas Passenger Terminal on the Clyde Quay Wharf.
The project – with up to 90 apartments and car parks – was approved by the city council five years ago. There was, however, public misapprehension that the 1960s building was to be redeveloped, rather than demolished.
When the Environment Court rejected an appeal and approved the project in 2009, the decision of Judge C J Thompson confirmed what the developers hadn’t made clear: the original Overseas Passenger Terminal building would be demolished  and what would replace it would be much bigger.
The OPT will be removed and will be replaced by a new and significantly larger building. There is no question that what is proposed will preserve or protect the OPT. While some of its fabric might be reused, the building and its values will be lost.
The Judge described as “quaint” the developer’s claim that the OPT was to be “refurbished.” The project “is much more than that.” wrote the judge, who described how much bigger the new building would be.
Wider along the eastern side of the wharf and will extend past the present northern and southern limits. The upper levels will contain between 70 and 90 apartments and there’ll be under-wharf parking with space for 90 cars as well as parking on the wharf.
The judge also told us that the new building would be “so much larger” than permitted in the regional coastal plan (which states that additions or replacements must not exceed the dimensions of the existing building by 5 metres in vertical projection or 5 per cent … whichever is the lesser). And he commented that it will “undoubtedly be substantially different in external appearance . . .” By then it was unstoppable.
The website of Wellington Waterfront Ltd gives the specifics of the change. It says the height of the original building (above – now demolished) was approximately 12 metres.
The heights of the new building are to be:
Northern end – 17 metres
Middle section (the main body of the building) – 15 metres
Southern end – 18 metres
Which makes it clear just how much bigger the new structure will be. And why some of Wellington’s harbour views will not be the same again.
Wellington has lost more than views. The Overseas Passenger Terminal was listed in the city’s District Plan and was one of 180 structures chosen for inclusion in a book (edited by Julia Gatley) about New Zealand’s modernist buildings.
Public ownership has been lost as well. More information from the judge:
A subdivision given consent in 2006 broadly separated the envelope of the proposed building from the surrounding wharf structure … This will enable the building to be owned by the developer or its successors, and the wharf structure to remain in public ownership, thus providing for ongoing public access.
Hopes of attracting shops and restaurants into the ground floor of the new building were countered by the judge’s comment that there had been a series of unsuccessful restaurants and cafes and that its distance from transport and the CBD had been a problem for such uses. However he noted the argument that bringing more residents into the area will bring with it “something closer to the critical mass required to give viability to the business established in and around the Chaffers Dock and Herd Street apartments” though “we are told that most of them have not so far been successful.”
He also noted that the wharf’s early history earned it a reputation as “cold and windy”, an attribute which buyers of the new apartments will no doubt have to learn to live with.
The developer’s dollar-a-year deal with the council