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Billionaire Peter Thiel’s proposed Wānaka lodge ‘wrong development in the wrong location’ – environmental trust

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Billionaire American technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel.

A luxury lodge overlooking Lake Wānaka proposed by billionaire Peter Thiel is the “wrong development in the wrong location”, an environmental trust says.

Longview Environmental Trust (LET) counsel Phil Page told an Environment Court hearing in Queenstown yesterday Second Star Ltd’s proposal to build a hotel in an Outstanding Natural Landscape (ONL) did not “even get off first base”.

The applicant’s failure to assess the effects of guest and staff activities at the lodge’s 193ha Damper Bay site was a “serious omission”, Page said.

An example was the prospect of helicopters ferrying guests to and from the lodge.

“Let’s have a dose of reality — these are wealthy people coming from North America. They’re not going to pick up a rental car at Queenstown Airport and drive there.”

Visual simulations provided by the applicant did not capture the “real-world use” of the site that would be expected at a luxury lodge, such as the movements of helicopters, vehicles and guests undertaking recreational activities.

An artist's impression of a rejected lodge development on land Peter Thiel owns in Wanaka. Image / Supplied, File
An artist’s impression of a rejected lodge development on land Peter Thiel owns in Wanaka. Image / Supplied, File

Second Star is appealing a decision by a Queenstown Lakes District Council consenting panel in 2022 to refuse resource consent for the lodge.

The company wants to develop the grass-roofed complex, which would accommodate up to 30 guests, on a site overlooking Glendhu Bay about 7km from Wānaka town centre.

After court-ordered mediation and informal discussions with the applicant, the council now has a neutral position on the proposal.

An artist's impression of spectacular views from the proposed lodge development for Peter Thiel at Lake Wānaka.
An artist’s impression of spectacular views from the proposed lodge development for Peter Thiel at Lake Wānaka.

Page said neither the applicant nor the council had provided plans comparing the original proposal and the amended one.

The council’s new evidence, including from its consultant landscape architect Paddy Baxter, did not provide any proper basis to support its change of position.

“The council has plainly gone witness shopping after its decision was made in order to justify it.”

Upper Clutha Environmental Society president Julian Haworth said it had expected the council to defend its decision to refuse consent for the lodge.

The amendments to the proposal did not represent a valid reason to “abandon a carefully-made decision based on copious evidence and submissions”.

Haworth said it was disappointing the council had not asked its consultant landscape architect at the original hearing, Richard Denney, to give evidence to the court.

“Presumably Mr Denney has not been made available because he is opposed to the amended proposal.”

Council counsel Mary Devonport said it no longer opposed granting consent for the proposal because of the changes made by the applicant.

It now considered the proposal’s effects could be mitigated in a way that maintained the integrity of the district plan.

That was an “efficient, cost-effective” approach for the council to take, Devonport said.

“It would be mendacious to say the council changing its position makes it an advocate for the proposal.”

The hearing ended yesterday.

The court’s decision will be reserved following written closing submissions by the applicant and council.



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