A judge has ordered the famed Waiheke Island vineyard to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs in a protracted noise dispute. Photo/NZME
Prominent Waiheke Island vineyards in a long-running noise dispute with neighbours have been ordered to pay them $412,000 in legal fees for their role in the “painful” collapse.
Oakland City Council, also in the midst of gunfire, has been ordered to pay its neighbors $82,000 in legal costs of $825,000 due to its own mistakes.
A judge ruled that the commission’s initial failure to oversee Cable Bay Vineyards or take prompt enforcement action for serious rule violations amounted to “dereliction of duty.”
Judge accuses Cable Bay of exhibiting ‘provocative behaviour’ throughout the proceedings, making ‘baseless’ arguments in the five-year-long costly lawsuit and trying to ‘pull the boat out at almost every turn’ “.
A bright spot for the committee was the rejection of Cable Bay’s attempt to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars from its own $600,000 legal bill.
The vineyard’s bid to force neighbors to pay its legal fees also failed.
But things are far from over. Both Cable Bay and Auckland councils are appealing the ruling, which means more legal costs.
The long-running dispute relates to Cable Bay obtaining retrospective consent for its Oneroa restaurant operation, which has received more than 100 noise complaints since 2014, many of them related to revelers drinking on vineyard lawns.
The vineyard is owned by Loukas Petrou, a wealthy European businessman who also owns a construction company and two mansions worth about $15 million.
Petrou’s wine business was ordered to take control of the racket in 2018, and was finally approved under strict conditions in 2020.
But Petrou’s company unsuccessfully appealed to the High Court and the Court of Appeal, citing conditions that were too onerous.
At the same time, the parties filed fee applications as legal fees increased.
In a draconian cost decision obtained by the Herald, Environment Court Judge Laurie Newhook noted that “substantial” money was involved in the case.
The delay in issuing the decision was regrettable, but not surprising given the circumstances of the case, the judge said.
“Not only are the amounts claimed by both parties quite extreme on the surface, but
The submission fee and its attachments are over 500 pages!
“Worse yet, they are based on the parties’ liberal interpretation of their respective claims of various ‘successes’, to the point that some aspects of the submissions appear to be relitigations of heated substantive disputes.”
Neighbors were forced to hire senior legal counsel and expert advisors during the litigation process, at significant personal cost, the decision said.
They argue that Cable Bay’s conduct amounted to an abuse of court process and that the commission ignored its mandate. Neighbors are demanding the full cost of their huge legal bills.
Meanwhile, Cable Bay argues the neighbours’ poor handling of the case has left the vineyard “bombarded” with information and that the council has unreasonably defended the case. The Vineyard is seeking half of its $600,000 legal costs.
The committee argues that the amounts requested by the parties are too high and the costs should be where they fall.
Judge Newhook said Cable Bay’s claim to be forced to respond to a barrage of information was “pejorative and exaggerated”.
Vineyard planning witnesses were “unhelpful” and the judge criticised the “lack of concrete examples to support most of the allegations made by Cable Bay”.
The judge also took aim at the city council, saying its “late” enforcement action and “inaction” had escalated the problem, adding time and costs.
The commission’s “dereliction of duty” resulted in “some very egregious things when it finally acted” requiring an order.
“The actions taken by the council earlier could have removed a lot of heat from the process, significantly reducing costs for all parties.
“For these reasons, I have concluded that the commission has failed to discharge its duties and should be compensated for costs.”
A lawyer representing Cable Bay said the vineyard “refused to give any description of its conduct as advised by the Environmental Court”.
Both the comments and the fee decision are on appeal, and “it is premature to make any statements and/or comments until the High Court has made a decision”.
Waiheke resident and Auckland Council candidate Mike Lee said the council’s poor compliance was an open secret on the island.
But instead of acknowledging and correcting those deficiencies, the commission spent more taxpayer dollars “to fend off the legal consequences of its failure.”
“I’m so sorry for my neighbours in Cable Bay who have been fighting the tyranny of official apathy for years.”
A city council spokesman said the council did not take legal action lightly.
“Our in-house legal team and external legal providers work together to ensure the most prudent use of taxpayer funds.”
The commission has appealed the fee decision and will not comment further as the matter goes to court.
One of the neighbours, who did not want to be named, said the court’s decision to impose strict noise limits in Cable Bay was a relief to affected homeowners and felt they were right.
While the matter is still in court, he declined to comment on the fee award or subsequent appeal.
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