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  • Writer's pictureGrant McLachlan

McVillage could be iconic

The Art Deco-styled Taradale "McDeco" provides an iconic point of difference to the standard McDonalds aesthetic.

If done right, McDonalds could be an iconic welcoming focus point to the Havelock North Village.

In my profession I regularly face submitters who fear the unknown. In such circumstances they fear the worse and, in their pack mentality, scare away good ideas while dumb ideas sneak under the radar and ruin the amenity of an area.

There is no denying that the first building that will be seen after crossing the Karamu Stream Bridge will be on the site that McDonalds have bought.

While it is a tragedy that the site is zoned Industrial 1, for a McDonalds to not require resource consent it would need to have a gross floor area of less than 100m². The permitted building height limit, however, is 11 metres, landscaping only needs to screen 20% of road frontage and signs can be 5m².

If McDonalds builds one of their ‘out of the box’ template restaurants that is nothing more than a billboard with windows it is entirely our fault. A proposal is assessed against the effects on the environment and what our district plan desires. If that environment is a fragmented community with no unique attributes then Havelock North is no different than any other non-descript satellite suburb.

The corrosion of the Village’s character is linked to its leadership. I remember vividly the first thing Hastings District Council did to Havelock North when the councils ‘merged.’ The extensive landscaping of the Middle Road/ Porter Drive shopping area was proudly opened by the outgoing Village Mayor. Shortly after the merger a concrete block was plonked in the middle of that intersection and the old council chamber’s demolition followed.

The Spanish Mission/ Arts & Crafts character of the Village that was once enhanced by red brick raised gardens and cobblestone pedestrian crossings is now replaced with ‘organic’ praying mantis street lights and larvae shaped bollards that blends only with the 80s modular-styled BNZ.

Such poorly designed public spaces have a flow-on effect to other land use. The quaintness of the Village has recently been overwhelmed by monolithic, featureless commercial buildings that question our sense of place.

McDonalds could set a standard that reminds the Hastings District Council planning department of how to do things properly. McDonalds should see the synergies of its previous architectural styles with the Village’s brand. Villagers, however, would take a dim view if McDonalds cynically slapped terracotta tiles and stucco on its template designs.

I recently hosted friends from abroad. They asked me to stop the car so they could take a picture of the McDeco in Taradale. They were impressed by the overall attention to detail of Napier and the wineries’ architecture. They thought, however, that Havelock North had an identity crisis - a multiple personality disorder.

A building’s appearance can create a connection with the community it aims to serve. A community does not need to be bombarded with signage or confronted with a playground resembling a small intestine.

There are also little things that McDonalds could do to be a responsible citizen. There will be concerns about boy-racers and litter. Elsewhere in the country there are McDonalds-sponsored street cleaners and CCTV monitoring of anti-social behaviour.

Planning is about recognizing human instincts. I can see the McVillage frequented with SUV-driving mothers catching up on gossip in a sophisticated setting while their kids terrorize the play area.

If the Village does not get behind the McVillage, they may end up getting precisely what they don’t want. The Kerikeri community tried to block any McDonalds in their town. Instead of the building being a McStone Store they got a McLockwood that clashes with every building in town.

Instead of fighting tool and nail through the Courts such energy is best invested in the best design.

A McVillage is a great way to define a community’s character by taking a universal brand and identifying a point of difference that sets the Village apart from everywhere else.

Wouldn’t it be great if people thought “Wow, what an amazing building! Oh, it’s a McDonalds. I haven’t been to a McDonalds for a while. Coffee?”

Who knows, if McDonalds does it right, other buildings might adopt the same style leading to the restoration of the Village’s identity.

McDonalds needs to release an artist’s impression before the deafening silence fuels paranoia.


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