Setback for billionaire Peter Thiel’s plan to build luxury lodge in remote New Zealand

Billionaire Peter Thiel’s proposal for an elaborate lodge in a remote region of New Zealand may be scuttled, after council planners recommended the plans be rejected for “unacceptable” adverse effects on the environment.

The development Thiel had proposed is in Wanaka, near Queenstown – a remote, alpine area in the South Island, renowned for its isolation and pristine natural beauty.

Second Star Ltd, a company owned by Thiel, lodged a consent application for a sprawling lodge on his property, which would include a “pod” for Thiel himself, water features and meditation zones.

The application described “a series of stand-alone buildings, including a lodge for visitor accommodation for up to 24 guests, accommodation pod for the owner, with associated lodge management buildings, infrastructure, landscape treatment, water features and meditation space”. The earthworks required to build it would cover more than 73,700m² of land.

Senior planner Sarah Gathercole was charged with assessing the environmental and cultural impact of the proposal for the council and in a report running to nearly 1,000 pages, she recommends that the council reject it.

The “adverse effects of the activity on landscape quality and character, visual amenity, design and density of development, cumulative effects and earthworks will be unacceptable,” Gathercole’s report said.

She said the proposed lodge “is of a scale well in excess of what could be reasonably anticipated”.

“Whilst some positive effects will result from the proposal, I consider it does not constitute a positive [enough] effect on the environment to entirely offset or compensate for the adverse effects.”

Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and a Trump supporter, has generated controversy for his activities in New Zealand.

In 2017, it was revealed that he had been given New Zealand citizenship despite spending just 12 days in the country.

The usual route to citizenship requires applicants to be in New Zealand as a permanent resident for at least 1,350 days in five years before an application, but the government waived the requirement for Thiel on the basis of his entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities.

At the time, Thiel was seen as part of a broader cohort of super-rich investors who hoped to buy up remote New Zealand properties as hideaways for potential societal or environmental collapse.

He began facing opposition from New Zealand environmental groups and residents over his plans to build the lodge when the designs were released for submissions in late 2021.

Local resident John Sutton said in a submission to council that the lodge would “destroy our beautiful lake environment”.

The Upper Clutha Environmental Society said the site was “wholly within and surrounded by outstanding natural landscape … landscape of national importance” and opposed it, saying “the development is likely to cause significant adverse physical changes to the appearance of the natural landscape when viewed from public places in the vicinity”.

In its proposal, Second Star argues that the architects “have designed the proposal to blend the buildings in to the undulating landscape that surrounds them” and that “the proposed lodge will create high-end accommodation in the region, whereby the economic benefits reach across the district and beyond”.

The Guardian approached representatives of Second Star for comment.

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