Multimillionaire property investor Ben Cook buys corner site in Auckland’s most expensive suburb

A multimillionaire active property investor is buying a prominent piece ofNew Zealand’s most expensive suburb on a corner site where he plans apartments and shops.

Ben Cook of the privately-owned Cook Property said he had struck a deal with a business owned by family-run Mansons TCLM to buy The Gables site on the corner of Kelmarna Ave and Jervois Rd in Herne Bay.

“I purchased this site from Mansons about 12 months ago but with a long settlement date and Mansons still own it,” he said today.

Property records show Manson Kelmarna as the owner, directors being Ted Manson and son Culum and Auckland Council valued the property at $8.8m of which only $400,000 is buildings and the rest is the land.

Home values in the prestigious neighbourhood hit a median $2.56 million in June, $432,511 higher than their June 2019 value, according to property analysts Valocity.

Based on that, a Herne Bay home would need just 54 days to jump $64,168 in value – the same amount a typical full-time Auckland worker earned in a year, the Herald has reported.

Locals said they expected Cook to develop a new Countdown supermarket there but he said that wasn’t his plan at all.

“There are a lot of whispers but it’s likely this site will be redeveloped into retail and residential. I have been buying a few Countdowns but I’ve never built any,” Cook said today.

The Herald reported in September how Cook had spent more than $100m buying New Zealand’s biggest Bunnings, the 15,000sq m Westgate store which opened in July, as well as Countdowns in Wellington and Orewa. During the winter, he also bought Howick’s Countdown, understood to be valued at around $25m. He already owns Bunnings stores in Grey Lynn and Sydney.

All up, the three Countdowns which Cook bought lately in Howick, Orewa and Wellington as well as Bunnings Westgate are valued at $143m.

In 2006, the Herald reported on a plan for the Herne Bay pub to face the wrecker’s ball to make way for apartments and a new restaurant and bar. But that never happened.

Plans at the time were for the 1970s, English-style pub occupies a valuable site on the cornerin one of the country’s most expensive suburbs. It’s packed on Tuesday’s quiz night and attracts good audiences on Wednesday’s jazz evenings, but is past its “use-by date”, say regulars Barry Pettman and Chris Ryan.

“The old English style has had its day, it’s a shame but it’s time to move on,” said Mr Pettman, who has been drinking at the pub for more than 20 years.

The Gables was expected then to join other suburban pubs, like The Gluepot in Ponsonby and the Mon Desir on Takapuna Beach, which were demolished to make way for apartments.

Back in 2006, the pub had been bought by a group of developers, including Chris Cook, who demolished a 100-year-old house at Marine Parade in Herne Bay to build two homes.

Fourteen years ago, the developers were reported to be rebuilding on the 2345 sq m business-zoned site with 15 upmarket residential units, offices and two retail shops on Jervois Rd.

A new, smaller restaurant and bar will be built on the corner of Jervois Rd and Kelmarna Ave.

One of the developers, Bastiaan Struyck, said the plans were to replace the Gables with a family gastro-style pub and keep features such as the quiz and jazz nights.

But in 2007, the Environment Court declined consent for a tavern, 14 office units, four townhouses and four apartments.

Environment Court judge Fred McElrea said the development was an “over intensive use of the site” and would lead to adverse environmental effects and conflict with provisions in Auckland City’s district plan.

Active commercial developers Mansons bought the property but never went ahead developing it.

Two years ago, the site was being marketed by Bayleys which said a resource consent had been granted for 69 apartments, two shops and 76 car parks.

“This well-known property, formerly home to The Gables tavern, is one of the last large-scale development opportunities available in the sought-after inner-city suburb of Herne Bay,” said agent Paul Hain. The rectangular-shaped site had a frontage to two streets, enabling multiple access points.”

Former Auckland councillor Mike Lee Mr Lee said in 2016 the century-old combined wastewater and stormwater system in the area had capacity for present levels of wastewater in dry weather, but not in wet weather when there were more than 52 overflows and discharges of sewage into the Waitemata Harbour a year.

Holding tanks could largely cope with extra stormwater from 70 apartments and three shops,Lee said, but more and a greater concentration of wastewater pollutants would flow into the harbour.

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