By Pauline Stewart
"...to believe someone at their face value and to enable discussion which could reach a compromise, may save..."
The couple bought their house in Lee street and also later purchased the corner block where the Whitianga Vet now is. They set up a plant and garden nursery on the corner block, but when the financial markets crashed in 1987, they sold everything and put the land on the corner up for sale. For a while, there was another business located on that piece of land, but eventually, the property was again sold, this time for the building of the vet clinic.
Lee Street, Whitianga is zoned commercial though there are several private homes in Lee Street. Because it is zoned commercial, then a commercial building can be built very close to the boundary of the next. It is immaterial whether a family home is next door. That is the case in point for the vet clinic. The building of the structure proceeded through a non-notifiable consent process and it was permitted to build less than one metre from the existing fence line. So, whoever is next door to the vet, is very close to their building and vice versa.
The vet is an essential service and a very well run business. In recent times, tension and bad feeling have developed between the vet and their closest neighbour, not over parking or noise, but over odours. Smell might be the better word. Here we have the seeds of the tension.
It wasn’t always like this. It has only developed in the last two years. A very bad odour is debilitating. If it comes and goes without warning or regularity, then if two years of that in your back yard, barbeque area and sometimes inside your home is not dealt with, whatever the goodness of people, communication sours over enduring the smell and not being able to discover the source of it. That is the reality.
The local Community Board and Thames Coromandel District Council officers became involved and their emails and their visits are recorded. I say became and not presently, because some months ago, a voice message left on the answer phone of the home owners by a local authority representative, announced that the case was closed. This is because no one in an official capacity has stayed long enough at the owner's home to be able to confirm that what the owners are suffering is real. The vet staff have tried to ascertain what it could be. In the early stages of the complaints, they really tried. The Informer has confirmed from a source that the ventilation system currently operating is intended to enable clients at the vets to feel warm in winter and cool in summer. It is not a filter system but brings in air from outside and is a sealed system. There is little odour in the vet clinic waiting area.
The issue this raises for me is, on what basis do you believe someone? If the homeowners had been ranting and raving over other issues over the years and been complaining from the beginning even over the non-notifiable resource consent or other matters, then one might be tempted to let this go and not do anything. However this household is not like that. They now feel no one believes them.
But some do. There is an odour and it comes and it goes. Noel Hewlett happened to be there when the odour was very real. He described it as pungent at its best and he termed it disgusting. The Informer obliged and came around on four occasions. On two of those, the odour was pungent - a very strong chemical smell, at some points nauseating. The person representing The Informer is not smell sensitive so for it to be so pungent is very believable. The area was not large but it was very near the home and in the barbecue area.
The neighbours want a peaceful life in their home. They deserve it. The Vet would like this issue resolved, and to go away once and for all. He deserves that and it is a reasonable hope.
The Resource Consent says nothing about odours, only parking. So no talk of legal action is necessary or on the cards. The Health Act does mention unpleasant smells and the Regional Council has to take the lead here. The emails from Brian Taylor, Group Manager of Regulatory Services explains that “Regional Council has not found an issue and so has referred it back to TCDC to look at it under the Health Act. Brian further states that “for them to take action under the Health Act, the Council needs evidence which unfortunately they don’t have.” He also adds, “they don’t have a metre or device that would allow them to make that assessment …. They need to rely on their expert's personal assessment at the time.” That was in March 2022 and as late as October 2022, the Area Manager has confirmed that “…there was nothing raised from the Elected Members visit to your property that warrants reopening the investigation at this time.”
I would agree that there is no need for further investigation and people have been decent to respond in that way. Investigations are costly. Also the Council hasn’t got the equipment to do an investigation and how is someone an expert on this subject when no one has been there a sufficient length of time or at the time when the odour is expelled or present. Investigations at this stage can only entrench views. But to believe someone at their face value and to enable discussion which could reach a compromise, may save endless emails and further comment and actions which both neighbours come to regret and which sours the ability for the local authorities to achieve a good outcome.
There is a need for the local authorities to reengage – one person should be enough, who is determined to resolve the saga of the real and re-occurring odour with a mutual agreement by both parties.
I have come to believe in miracles in my personal life and in the lives of people around me. Goodwill is worth a great deal. It has a long memory. This Peninsula needs a miracle with its transport system; many local businesses need a miracle in terms of trade as their income has been crippled. This situation seems to require a lesser miracle, so perhaps in the interests of health and wellbeing, for two neighbours, the miracle can happen.