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Opoia waterfront options

This post examines some real-world examples of what the 240m-long Opoia River esplanade could look like.
The 2008 ‘Hamilton City Heart Revitalisation Project’ recommended four key responses for Opoia:
(1) Reduce section sizes from 350m2 to 200m2; (2) Allow parking requirements to be the same as in the city centre; (3) Allow an increase in building heights to 5-7 storeys; and (4) create an esplanade reserve.
This could look like the post-WWII Cologne waterfront. The section shown in the photograph below is 170m long and it is within 500 metres of the city centre,

The photo below provides a closer look; as you can see, private investors appear to be free to build in any style. Walking along here (in 2015) at ground floor level, the atmosphere did not feel manipulated and ground floor designs and uses were ‘flexible and adaptable and … will remain useful over the long term’ as stated in ‘New Zealand Urban Design Protocol’. For example, there is no vertical zoning, as in District Plan 7.3 Rules ee) and ff) ‘Apartment at ground floor’: Non-complying Activity (NC) and Restricted Discretionary Activity (RD), respectively.

The Hamilton City Centre Local Area Plan: Oct 2012 – (p34) 6.2.2 Desired Future Character – Opoia Precinct will ‘Encourage medium to high density buildings, such as apartments/terraced housing/town-housing with 25% permeable surface requirement, 50% maximum building coverage, maximum 25m height for all buildings and 3m building setbacks from front boundaries’. If you scroll down a few pages in the 2012 Local Area Plan you can see what the Beca team thought HCC leadership wanted to see in the section titled ‘Develop design guidelines’, which show wider buildings than you would see in the Cologne example. Here the outcome could look more like this 140m Koblenz waterfront, which is about 500 to 600 metres from the city centre.

From a distance this looks attractive.

Closer in, you can see the risk of building wider, single use buildings. The Cologne waterfront does have examples of this building type, but because the building widths are narrower, a single out-of-place ground floor frontage has no effect on the atmosphere. It actually adds character and amplifies the good design of other buildings.

The 2015 Hamilton Central City Transformation Plan does not include reference to Opoia, but says ‘Small and fragmented property ownership’ is a challenge, and supported a ‘review the role of the Urban Design Panel to enable a more active role in urban design and quality built form outcomes’. We also have the proposed Waikato Regional Theatre becoming more likely. As a benchmark, Venlo (in the Netherlands) has completed a large-scale apartment development (170m-long commercial ground floor with apartments above) along its river-front promenade, alongside an 800 seat modernised (2013) Theatre.

No doubt the architects and urban planners followed the latest urban principles in the design of this waterfront development and it would have been sold to the council as a utopia of its time. But it does now show the difficulty of applying the concepts of modern art to the harsh realities of urban planning.

The day I visited this waterfront promenade (in 2018) it had a feeling of oversized emptiness, while behind these waterfront buildings, in the old streets and laissez-faire mixing of building styles, the area was alive with people.

The Opoia waterfront, at 240m, is long compared to the above examples. The size and style of new buildings will be based on what the funder believes the customer will pay for. The council’s role is to allow investment and fund the River Plan Project to ‘Create a wide and appealing promenade style river walkway … Provide an improved connection to Claudelands Bridge, to complete a river’s edge walking and cycleway circuit’.

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Opoia, Jesmond Park to Claudelands Bridge

Hamilton’s River Plan Objective is ‘For Opoia to be developed as a medium-density residential area (by the private sector) with the provision for public access and a strong connection to the river and central city.’

In 2008 the ‘Hamilton City Heart Revitalisation Project’ explained (7.10 & 7.11) Opoia is ‘within the walk-able catchment of the CBD’ and ‘Currently this area has less than ideal access … constraint to redevelopment is access … doing nothing will not result in land use changes’ and ‘a pedestrian link encompassing a river reserve would be a fundamental requirement for redevelopment of this area’.
Key findings (p95) included – ‘limited by poor connectivity to Claudelands Road, topography issues preventing connections through Opoia. Subsequently development is expected to occur relativity slowly given access difficulties’ (more information in staff comments at end of post). Looking at the quote about topography issues to Claudelands road, below is a check of access difficulties. I have found it possible to provide an accessible path through Jesmond Park between Opoia road and Claudelands road. Topography issues are not the reason Opoia has poor connectivity.

In the Hamilton City Centre Local Area Plan: Oct 2012 – (p6) ‘Opoia has been included because of its close proximity to the central city’. (p15) ‘Improved connections can be achieved through extended street-scaping and pedestrian amenity – with green fingers extending out from the central city’. (p28) ‘Medium density residential development (up to 5 storeys) will be promoted in Opoia, due to the areas close proximity to the central city, views of the Waikato River, and sunny aspect. Current access difficulties into this area will need to be addressed in order to ensure increased residential densities in this area’. (p34) ‘There are currently three pedestrian entry points in to Opoia Precinct, via Riro Road, from Soldiers Memorial Park through Parana Reserve, or from Claudelands Bridge, through Jesmond Park to Opoia Road. Activate Jesmond Park through increased residential density and appropriate edging to enliven this central city park and increase safety / usability of the pedestrian connection between Opoia and the Claudelands Bridge.’

The 2012 idea ‘with green fingers extending out from the central city’ fits so well with ‘Hamilton city council climate change’ commitment: ‘we’re encouraging people to move around our city using active transport’.

Hamilton City Heart Revitalisation Project: May 2008 – staff comments.

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