Developer loses $14 million in damages

A Supreme Court judge has rejected a $14 million claim by a South Island developer against a married couple, calling the proceedings an “abuse of the court’s process”.

The Chris Meehan-affiliated company Waterfall Park Developments filed the claim against James and Rebecca Hadley last year, claiming it had suffered losses as a result of the couple’s “persistent and unreasonable” opposition to their plans to build housing on land that the company had lost. property between Lake Hayes and Arrow City.

In his decision, released publicly this week, Judge Gerald Nation said the developer’s implied motive for the claim was to dissuade the Hadleys from participating in three other legal proceedings involving them.

It wanted to “impose the burden and expense on the Hadleys” of having to defend the claim.

Company attorney Mike Colson argued that the Hadleys had consistently opposed the development of some of the land on Ayrburn Farm by suing the company over a row of trees it had planted, filing with the council against the allotment application and oppose the company’s appeals. about the destination of the land, the planting of trees and the subdivision.

Those actions had been “persistent and unreasonable,” costing the company the chance to begin development in June of last year, Colson said.

The company requested evidence of confidential communications from court mediation and subsequent settlement negotiations with the Hadleys, both of which had failed last year.

In an affidavit supporting the filing, Mr. Meehan said Hadley’s conduct through those communications amounted to “extortion or blackmail,” and that their motive had been to take “a commercial advantage” from the company.

However, Justice Nation dismissed the two separate claims for damages, totaling $14.36 million, and denied the request for evidence.

The Hadleys’ opposition was not “unreasonable and persistent,” nor had they failed to act in good faith during mediation and settlement negotiations.

The decision is the latest round of a lengthy and complex legal dispute between the Hadleys and the company, which owns historic Ayrburn Farm and the neighboring Waterfall Park properties.

The couple took the company before the Environmental Court in 2020 over a 500-metre line of trees it had planted along a boundary of Ayrburn Farm.

They argued that the trees would adversely affect the adjacent Queenstown Trail, their real purpose was to screen the residential development the developer intended, and that they were not an agricultural shelter as the company claimed.

The court ruled that the planting of trees was illegal, and in March the Supreme Court dismissed Meehan’s appeal against the decision.

Mr Meehan has recently shelved plans for a retirement home on part of Ayrburn land and is now aiming to convert the site into residential lots.

He is still looking for a retirement home on the grounds of Waterfall Park, after dropping plans for an already approved 380-room hotel and spa complex.

– Guy Williams, PIJF court reporter

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