Owner of church buildings in North Canterbury threatens to blow one up after consents row
The owner of two historic church buildings is threatening to blow one up after rising frustrations with a lengthy real estate row.
Peter Gill, who even founded his own religion during desperate efforts to have the country site turned into housing, is at the end of his tether.
“I’ve had enough,” says the father-of-three.
“Fighting this has consumed my life so let’s drop the f****** church to the ground, to prove a point.”
The 41-year-old warned Waimakariri District Council officials last week that he would raze one of the historic buildings.
Within an hour, police officers visited him, checking on his welfare.
Gill bought the wooden, 142-year-old heritage-listed former church turned hall in rural West Eyreton in North Canterbury, 40km northwest of Christchurch, along with its neighbouring 1950s former Methodist church, in November 2020 for $185,000.
He believed the land was deemed residential after seeing an estate agent’s advert that he claims stated it was a “residential” dwelling with one bedroom and one bathroom.
However, a complaint to the Real Estate Authority (REA), which regulates New Zealand’s real estate industry, and a subsequent appeal to the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal – while finding one website advertisement did contain false and misleading information – were not upheld.
And Gill has been left to foot the bill to get the land rezoned.
He has already spent $100,000 on repairs, refurbishments and street artists to paint colourful wall murals.
The local council advises it could be around another $20,000 for resource consents to allow them to be lived in.
A resource consent application is now under way but Gill, whose mortgage and insurance has been withdrawn, is furious that he has to pick up the bill.
“Why should it be left to the consumer to fix it?” the concrete company owner says.
“If you go to the supermarket and buy a loaf of gluten-free bread, because it says gluten-free on it, but you take it home and it’s not gluten-free, is the customer in the wrong there?”
Gill had originally bought the buildings to convert them into housing – not for himself (“No, I’d burn up if I lived in a church) – but as rentals.
To help his case and in a bid to sidestep red tape, he even formed his own church, calling it the Dilligaf Church – after the song by Australian comedian Kevin Bloody Wilson, Dilligaf, which stands for, ‘Do I look like I give a f***’.
He says the council hasn’t recognised it as being legitimate, which Gill accepts, despite registering it online.
“Of course it’s not real – is Brian Tamaki’s church real? Is Jesus’ religion real? There’s no proof that any religion is real,” he says.
“I could start a brothel or a gang headquarters and nobody would have an issue. But housing? No, you gotta pay for that.
“It makes no sense.”
But his church has hosted a wedding and he even has paying “followers” who can use the facilities.
Gill, who lives nearby, says he would never have bought the churches if he couldn’t use them as residences.
“Who would buy two old churches without being able to live in them?” he says.
“The earthquakes got rid of most of the historic buildings [in Canterbury] and how we aren’t even saving the ones we have left.”
A complaint over “misleading information” allegations was lodged with the REA in November 2020 but not upheld, with a decision to take no further action.
Gill appealed the decision to the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal but that was also dismissed.
The REA declined to comment when approached by the Herald this week.
Real estate agent Rob Duke of Mike Pero Real Estate in Kaiapoi, who handled the sale, referred enquiries to head office.
“We worked with Mr Gill to attempt to resolve his complaint before it was referred to the Real Estate Authority – where it was rejected. The Disciplinary Tribunal dismissed Mr Gill’s appeal,” said a spokesman for Mike Pero Real Estate.
“We strive to deliver outstanding customer service and real estate outcomes for all customers. We believe we provided a professional service to Mr Gill and the Real Estate Authority found that we did not mislead Mr Gill.”
Waimakariri District Council said the property is zoned as “rural” – where the minimum lot size to contain a dwelling is 4ha – and has an existing use right as a church and hall.
In December, Gill applied for resource consent to establish a dwelling on the site and a council spokeswoman confirmed it’s “currently in process”.
Although Gill claims he checked with the council before buying the property, the spokeswoman said they have no record of that, while a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) report “was not applied for that would have provided detail relevant to the zoning of the property”.
“Numerous council staff and elected officials have met with Mr Gill on several occasions over the last 12 months,” the spokeswoman said.
“Correspondence is ongoing, both within and outside the resource consent process, and is responded to promptly. The resource consent process is now underway and Mr Gill is being kept informed on progress.”
Gill says he’s stressed, hasn’t slept properly for over a year, and it’s ground him down to the point where he’s considering drastic action.
“So let’s just get rid of the problem … I’ll drop it to the ground.”
However, the council says he will need to apply for resource consent for that too.
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