I’ve struggled through most of the hundreds of pages of material in Hill Country’s proposal for building Lowetown at Ocean Beach.
Most of the material deals with the minutiae of building heights, liquor store locations and heliport operating hours. Not that these details aren’t important to builders and promoters of small cities. Certainly, for example, they prefer approval of 4-story buildings instead of 1-story ones.
But, in fact, they divert our attention from the core issues at stake in considering whether the very idea of building a small city at Ocean Beach is a good one in the first place.
If you are planning a formal submission on Ocean Beach, unless you are prepared to hire your own lawyer or expert witness to help you comb through the Hill Country “plan change,” I suspect that you’ll have great difficulty if you try to get too deep into the weeds. Unfortunately, this illustrates the manner in which the RMA process favors the folks who stand to make a financial bundle out of development.
Meantime, however, opponents of Lowetown still have an opportunity to voice your concern in the political arena. Next week, the Hastings Council will review its position on the matter. Councillors will be re-voting … and they need to hear from you.
Here are three fundamental principles you might want to communicate.
First, let’s call this proposal what it really is … a radical plan to transform Ocean Beach from a pristine treasure into a small city.
We are not talking incremental change here!
Language is important in public discussions. Language frames the debate.
And here, the issue is building Lowetown, or not.
All the convoluted legalistic language of “plan changes” and “RMA submissions” sterilizes the matter at hand. And minutiae like allowable glare from street lights further obscure the reality.
The political debate should not be about the arcane.
So if a Councillor talks to you about the “plan change,” correct him or her. We are talking about building Lowetown, a small city, at Ocean Beach. Nothing less. Nothing more obscure.
When that Councillor’s grandchildren ask, “Whatever happened to Ocean Beach?”, the Councillor needs to say, “I voted against (or for) Lowetown, and I’m proud of it.” The Councillor surely cannot say … “It was a complicated plan change … I really didn’t see what was coming … Actually, I didn’t have time to read it.”
Second, property owners at Ocean Beach already have the right to sub-divide their land, and no one is proposing to take away those rights.
Under current rural zoning, existing large properties at Ocean Beach can be divided to a specified extent, which would allow a maximum of 75 or so lifestyle blocks, 1.5 hectares in minimum size, to be built over the full extent of the beach.
You will find nothing in the Hill Country proposed “plan change” as to why this status quo should be overturned. Why? Because the only reason for Lowetown is to make more money.
Now making the maximum possible amount of money off of Ocean Beach land is not a matter of property rights; it is a privilege which Hastings Councillors can decide to bestow upon a chosen few … or not.
So, Councillors, who is to “profit” from Ocean Beach, the people of Hawke’s Bay, or the Hill Country club?
Third, the claim that “some development” (i.e., Lowetown) is a fair trade for ironclad future protection of a large portion of Ocean Beach is totally groundless.
There is no plan for the conservation of any land at Ocean Beach in the Hill Country plan change. Ironclad protection of the balance of the land is a fairy tale.
Instead, we are promised a conservation plan (of unknown scope and effectiveness) after the Lowetown proposal has been accepted and locked in place. So after the diggers are excavating for Lowetown, then we all get to hire lawyers and argue over a conservation plan for what’s left.
Personally, I’ve never heard a Councillor step up and actually claim that building Lowetown was a great idea, though several of us have heard one say that she’d like to buy a place there (maybe she’d like to stand up and pick her lot at the next Council debate, and then recuse herself from voting!). Instead, supporters sheepishly peddle “the trade-off.”
Mayor Yule has always grounded his position upon this grand trade-off … a gamble, really. Unfortunately, in the Hill Country plan, Andy has dealt the Mayor a measly pair of deuces. Not a hand to bet the future of Ocean Beach on, I’d say.
What about you, Councillors, are you prepared to bet away Ocean Beach with a pair of deuces?
These three principles get to the nub of the Ocean Beach issues. When you think through their implications, the case for Lowetown — in fact, the case for any development beyond what is permitted today — falls down.
Down with Lowetown!
P.S. Don’t forget to check out the brand new BayBuzz website for more background on Ocean Beach.