Council faces legal battle on Marguerita St change

​​​​​​​Marguerita St resident Peter Baars says he will fight the council in court if they approve changes to the road. Photo/Andrew Warner/NZME 

A decision to add kerb extensions, a pedestrian crossing and signs to a main Rotorua connector road could see the Rotorua Lakes Council defending itself in court if it receives final sign-off tomorrow.

Marguerita St property owner Peter Baars, who started a petition calling for the retention of the status quo on the street, sent the council a letter through his lawyer on Tuesday morning, ahead of the full council meeting tomorrow morning.

Council chief executive Geoff Williams says the council will respond to the letter “in the appropriate manner”, not "through the media".

The letter states any change from the “literal status quo” would be “unreasonable, procedurally flawed and illogical”.

It follows public consultation on three proposed options for Marguerita St, prompted by concerns from Arvida Glenbrae retirement home residents, who reported shaking and rumbling from heavy vehicles on the street.

The three options were to keep the street as it was; install traffic management features such as chicanes or road narrowing; or close the road to through-traffic near the western, residential end.

The consultation prompted Baars’ petition, which opposed any changes being made to the street.

Baars' petition attracted 680 signatures while a residents' petition calling for changes collected 57. The consultation closed on July 31 this year and showed an overwhelming majority of submitters - about 88 per cent - supported the retention of the status quo.

However, at the November 5 Operations and Monitoring Committee meeting, council officers recommended a “modified status quo” - introducing four sets of kerb extensions, a pedestrian crossing and signs advising motorists of the residential area.

Glenbrae residents say heavy traffic causes loud noise and vibrations along the street. Photo/File 

An amendment to leave the street as it is, suggested by councillor Sandra Kai Fong, was narrowly defeated, with a split vote that was broken by the casting vote of the committee’s chairwoman, councillor Tania Tapsell, who opted for the modified status quo.

That means tomorrow, the council is to make a final decision whether to adopt that recommendation or not.

In Baars’ letter - sent to mayor Steve Chadwick, all councillors and council chief executive Geoff Williams - Holland Beckett lawyer James McDougall said the vast majority of feedback on changes to Marguerita St supported “the literal status quo”.

The purpose of the letter was to “challenge councillors’ rationale and logic” and to “put [them] on notice”.

If the council opted to implement the Operations and Monitoring Committee recommendation, Baars would refer it to the Ombudsman for investigation or judicial review in the High Court “on the basis that it will be unreasonable, procedurally flawed and illogical”, the letter says.

“What is deeply concerning is that [the] council has extensively consulted ... on three specific options and then recommended implementation of an option which was not actually consulted on, which disregards community views and is illogical and ineffective.

“These changes to the road layout are ineffective at addressing the residents’ concerns of noise and vibration and do not solve any perceived or actual concern of the public.”

“[Councillors] should use your good conscience and logic to vote against the recommendation.”

On Tuesday, Baars told Local Democracy Reporting the proposed kerb extensions would disincentivise traffic on Marguerita St.

"It can only be detrimental to business."

His lawyer, James McDougall, says the proposed modifications have no support from the public and make “no rational sense”.

“It appears council staff and half the councillors are ignoring their own feedback process and are failing to exercise independent judgement to identify whether installing kerb extensions address residents’ concerns.

“Any decision to modify the road without evidential support, or based on incorrect assumptions, is highly likely to result in [the] council being required to repeat the consultation and decision-making process.”

He says there is no evidence the proposed modifications will alleviate noise or vibration issues which were “the primary concern of residents”.

He says kerb extensions will also create unintended safety issues which he believed have “not properly been assessed”.

Council chief executive Geoff Williams says the matter will be before the council tomorrow and it would be “inappropriate to pre-empt final discussions and decision-making”.

“[The] council will respond to the correspondence received in the appropriate manner, rather than through the media.”

Local Democracy Reporting also asked what the proposed changes would cost to implement, and how much consultation regarding Marguerita St had cost to date, but answers to these were not provided.


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