Billionaire Peter Thiel faces opposition from New Zealand environmental groups over his plan to build a luxury lodge in WÄnaka, an alpine town on the South Island.
A business owned by Thiel had applied for permission for a sprawling pavilion on his property, which would include a “pod” for the owner himself, water features and a meditation area. The consent describes “a series of self-contained buildings, including a visitor accommodation lodge for up to 24 guests, an accommodation module for the owner, as well as associated lodge management buildings, infrastructure , the treatment of the landscape, the water features and the meditation space â. The earthworks necessary for its construction would cover more than 73,700 mÂ² of land.
Bids on consent were closed last week – but some local and resident environmental groups are opposing the plans.
Local resident John Sutton said in a submission to council that the lodge “would destroy our beautiful lakeside environment.”
Longview Environmental Trust argued that the location was inappropriate and would be highly visible. “No level of mitigation can satisfactorily reduce the level of negative effects that will be created,” they said.
The Upper Clutha Environmental Society said the site was “entirely inland and surrounded by outstanding natural scenery … landscape of national significance” and opposed the development, saying “the development is likely to cause significant negative physical changes in the appearance of the natural landscape when viewed from nearby public places â.
In total, the board received seven formal submissions opposing or requesting changes to the plan, and none in support.
The lodge is not the first taste of the Thiel controversy in New Zealand. The billionaire co-founder of PayPal and supporter of Trump obtained New Zealand citizenship after only spending 12 days in the country, it was revealed in 2017.
The usual path to citizenship requires applicants to be in New Zealand as a permanent resident for at least 1,350 days in the five years preceding an application, but the government waived the requirement for Thiel on the basis of its entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities. At the time, Thiel was seen as part of a larger cohort of very wealthy investors hoping to buy isolated New Zealand properties as havens for potential societal or environmental collapse.
The property in question consists of over 190 hectares on the shores of Lake Wanaka, and under the proposal part will remain as an active farm. In the proposal, Thiel’s company, Second Star Ltd, says the architects “designed the proposal to integrate the buildings into the hilly landscape around them.”
âAll buildings have green roofs that extend to the ground at each end of the buildings. Green roofs should be planted with the same range of plants (and the occasional rock) that occurs on the landforms of the surrounding hills.
The consent documents also claim that “the proposed lodge will create upscale accommodation in the area, whereby the economic benefits will spread across the district and beyond.”
The Guardian has contacted representatives from Second Star Ltd for comment.