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Peter Thiel’s New Zealand lodge should be rejected, says council planner


Peter Thiel has properties around the world, but a proposed luxury lodge in New Zealand may not materialize.

Mark Bello | Getty Images

The future of Peter Thiel’s luxury lodge on New Zealand’s South Island hangs in the balance after a senior local council planner says the tech billionaire’s development should be rejected on environmental grounds .

In a 978-page report published on Monday, Sarah Gathercole, senior planner with Queenstown Lakes District Council, recommended that planning permission be refused because the lodge will have “adverse effects” on the quality and character of the landscape.

“These adverse effects cannot be appropriately mitigated,” she said. “Although some positive effects will result from the proposal, I do not consider that it constitutes a (enough) positive effect on the environment to outweigh or fully offset the negative environmental effects.”

Plans for the resort, released by the council last September, show several buildings on the shores of scenic Lake Wanaka. The town of Wanaka is home to just over 10,000 people and is surrounded by sites that were used to film ‘Lord of the Rings’, a film trilogy that Thiel is known to be particularly fond of.

Images of the plans, designed by Tokyo Olympic Stadium architect Kengo Kuma and Associates, show a private residential building built into the hillside as well as a larger luxury pavilion with enough space for 24 people. There is also a separate meditation pod, several water features, and a building at the back of the house.

The so-called owner’s cabin has a spa, pool, theater lounge, office and three bedrooms, while the guest cabin has its own spa and pool, as well as a a library and 10 guest rooms with an uninterrupted view facing north towards the lake. Wanaka and the Southern Alps.

Kengo Kuma and Associates said the goal was to “design organic architecture that blends into the landscape” and respects native nature.

But Gathercole said the proposal is “of a scale far beyond what could reasonably be anticipated in the rural area and outstanding natural landscape”.

Three environmental groups opposed the plans while three others called for changes.

Julian Haworth, secretary of the Upper Clutha Environmental Society, which opposed the plans, told CNBC last year that the lodge would be “highly visible” from area trails and Lake Wanaka itself.

“The proposed buildings extend laterally across the landscape for 330 meters and will be highly visible from the Te Araroa track and from Lake Wanaka, two commonly visited public vantage points,” he said. ‘The company has no problem with the applicant building a large but carefully situated residence on the site, but the scale of the proposed development is outrageous.’

A representative for Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and Palantir and supported Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Thiel’s love for New Zealand

Thiel, an early Facebook investor and a friend of Elon Musk, bought the domain in 2015 for $13.5 million through an Auckland-headquartered company called Second Star Limited.

In 2017, it emerged that Thiel had been granted citizenship by the New Zealand government. This provoked a public backlash from local citizens, who accused him of quietly buying citizenship.

Located in relative isolation away from the world’s largest population centers, New Zealand has become a popular destination for wealthy individuals in recent years. Billionaire Google co-founder Larry Page was granted residency early last year.

Home to around 5 million people, the country has become synonymous with “preppers” – those who try to prepare for catastrophic events that could pose a threat to humanity. Today, there is even a dedicated website for people wishing to prepare their families for “survival” in New Zealand.

Reports had suggested that Thiel was planning to build some kind of doomsday-proof bunker on his 193-hectare (477-acre) estate in Wanaka, which is currently used as a working farm. Although some of the buildings appear to be built into the side of a hill, it is not clear if any of them are intended to be used as a bunker.

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