A property developer and a restaurateur have spent $10m purchasing a Queenstown mountain they plan to turn into a commercially viable eco-haven.
Want to buy an affordable house with a native forest outlook in the tourist mecca of Queenstown, and do good for the planet at the same time? Treespace has the solution for you.
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An innovative $10 million eco-project put together by property developer Adam Smith and restaurateur Sam Chapman aims to fund the reforestation of a Wakatipu hillside by selling tiny houses and creating tourism ventures.
Along with a handful of other investors the pair has purchased Mt Dewar Station, 1780 hectares of unproductive high country farmland less than five kilometres from Queenstown's centre. Overlooking the Wakatipu Basin and with Coronet Peak and the Shotover River on its flanks, the land suffers from significant ecological problems such as wilding pines and introduced pests.
Dubbed Treespace, the project's aim is to restore and rebalance 99% of the ecosystem through large scale replanting of the native beech forest which once grew there. It will fund the reforestation and ongoing management of the mountain by using 0.1 per cent of the land for habitable buildings and eco-tourism activities, including 50kms of cycle and pedestrian trails.
"It's turning back the clock and un-developing a piece of land," Smith says.
Most of the residential development will be tiny houses. Forty-three 100 square metre sites will be available for the new community of mountain dwellers to purchase for around $350,000, with building costs on top. Another 11 sections of 625 square metres each will allow for larger homes, with a price tag of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.
A lodge building will provide short-stay tourist accommodation and amenities for residents.
Treespace's owners are comfortable they have the numbers right. "We're pretty confident of the commercial real estate side," Smith says. "The balance is doing what the land allows you to do without having a detrimental effect on it, combined with undertaking enough of real estate development and tourist activity that generates commercial revenue."
One of Treespace's major shareholders is a Queenstown-based New Zealander who's made his money and is interested in the impact investment angle of the venture, Smith says. The group is creating a model they are calling an 'environmental enterprise', with the aim of making a profit and giving an impact investor the returns they might expect on the open market for a similar risk profile.
"It's trying to say, 'look there is an economic model to have a positive environmental impact'," Smith says.
Treespace is in the process of applying for resource consent, and the public consultation phase has just kicked off. "We're really hopeful the merits of the project and the big picture will resonate enough to overcome any regulatory hurdles," he says.
Queenstown Lakes District Council has been "really good" so far. While local authorities must balance the interests of many stakeholders, Treespace ticks many of Queenstown's environmental, housing and recreational boxes, he says.
The group is also confident the sections will sell. "We haven't started a list or anything but a lot of people who have been in contact with the project on its way through have put their hands up.
"We think we will be able to sell it three and four times over."
A number of Treespace’s sections will also be offered on a leasehold basis, with buyers given the right to purchase the freehold after 10 years. "We're just looking at alternative pathways to ownership that allow either increased affordability or give people more choice as to how they might structure their piece of real estate."
Chapman – known for Auckland music hotspot The Golden Dawn and Wellington bar/restaurant Matterhorn – and Smith, along with hair stylist and business owner Stephen Marr, are behind Queenstown's trendy mock-Tudor Sherwood lodge, restaurant and music venue. While Smith brings the physical side of developing to Treespace, Chapman’s skills in marketing and community-building are key, Smith says.
"It’s very different in its approach, but the philosophy (of Treespace) is similar in that the direction of Sherwood was to try and create community experiences and try and connect people to the environment and nature," he says.
"Mt Dewar creates an opportunity for people to make a greater impact that outweighs what they might otherwise have been able to justify on a purely donation-based level, and converts their biggest purchase into an impact investment.
"They get to live in a cabin in the woods, and demonstrate how the humble tree can become a sophisticated and powerful driver of sustainable economics and lifestyle."
Having people live on the mountain also ensures a level of forest management and care that would otherwise be difficult to provide, and it creates a community that is a connection between the ecosystem and the greater Queenstown environment, he says.
Treespace says due to its rural zoning, size and location Mt Dewar is classified as being within an outstanding natural landscape zone that has a low tolerance for visual effects that needs to be satisfied to permit occupation to occur.
The lower value associated with unzoned land makes it possible to achieve the scale of re-forestation, low density occupation, and accessible real estate price points.
Development is a while away yet, however. The earliest the project will get resource consent is midway through this year, and then it will take another 18 months to issue titles for the sections, Smith says.