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Commercial Activity in a Rural Zone – What’s the Harm?

By Anna Bensemann | Sep 01, 2021

Most District Councils place a restriction on commercial activities being carried out in rural or residential zones. By commercial I’m not talking about the commercial nature of your farm which may be your business. I mean businesses which are not relying on the use of the land to operate. Activities such as cafés, shops, office space or even warehousing and storage activities fall under the type of commercial activities councils are trying to control.

By use of blunt zoning tools, councils have identified areas where they consider that the predominant activities should be either rural or residential in nature, and zoned them accordingly. In most cases the District Plan Rules consider that commercial activities of a particular size, or nature, or which generate a certain number of traffic movements should only be allowed to establish in these zones once considered through the resource consent process.

But what is the harm of having one little commercial activity in rural or residential area? What effect could that possibly have? Bearing in mind that these rules apply to large areas of rural or residential zoned land, Councils use the planning rules as a trigger for enabling consideration of individual projects. This allows them to consider the specific details of what is proposed, what exists in the surrounding environment and what actual effect is likely to arise. It also enables council to consider if many other similar activities might seek to locate in the same area, effectively changing the nature of the zone.

Key considerations will be if the commercial activity will generate a lot of traffic movements, and if this will have an effect on the safety of the road, if there is sufficient car parking so that the streets or road berms are not full of parked cars, and if immediate neighbours will be impacted by the noise and general busy nature generated by commercial activities.

Council should consider signage proposed to advertise the commercial activity, and what effect this might have on neighbours or traffic, particularly in the rural areas. Signage that is too small or too big may create traffic hazards for motorists.

Cafes might generate noise in residential areas which impacts on neighbours ability to enjoy their properties during the day or at night, or evening lighting which causes glare for neighbours. In rural areas, there are questions around what happens with wastewater and where is water sourced from. All of these matters are considered by the District Council, and if the impacts are considered acceptable, consent will be granted.

This wide range of matters which have to be taken into account by the Council reflect that not all parts of the rural or residential zones are equal. By considering each proposal separately, decisions and possibly design changes can be made to ensure activities do not impact on the primary rural or residential activities intended in that area.

What is the harm in enabling a commercial activity in a rural or residential zone? The answer is that until the activity is investigated through the resource consent process no one knows with certainty. The resource consent process helps us to have some certainty and one part of why resource consents are required.