Hamilton – Independent Local Dairy-Grocery as a Permitted Activity

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If local dairy-groceries were a ’Permitted Activity’ in residential areas, it would be economically sustainable to have a dairy supported by about 650 people per dairy, as it is in the Swarbrick neighbourhood where there are 7 dairies: 4 are stand-alone and 3 have an association with take-aways. While there is competition from a full-sized supermarket and petrol stations selling extended ranges of goods, this hasn’t reduced the demand for the local dairy.  In the 1970s town planners expected a local shop to be supported by a population of approximately 1,000 within a 400m radius, which is equal to an area of 0.5 km/sq per dairy or a 5-minute walk.

From: Hamilton City District Scheme (Section 1 & 2) First review – Report on commercial Areas Summary – page 9 (Pink book with clear plastic cover) – Library REF S 711 552 209 931 151 HAM

 Methodology of this post: Neighbourhoods (census unit areas) in the Hamilton area are separated into four time periods.  (1) The green area is per motor vehicle areas as laid out by invading army surveyors and Frankton (link to map) was surveyed to maximise the value of land lots for sale in 1877 by Thomas and Mary Jolly after the first train arrived from Auckland (p7*).  (2) The amber area developed from about 1910 when ‘the horse and carriage provided the only mode of transport … by the 30’s, the horse and cart industry was becoming obsolete as motor vehicle ownership became more affordable (p47*), to the 1950s when in Hamilton there was ‘one car to almost every 3 ½ persons’ (p57**).   (3) The grey area is from the 1960s under the District Scheme (DS).  (4) The brown area is from the 1990s under the Town Plan or District Plan (DP). Excluded are industrial and mainly rural areas with very low population densities; Four Square supermarkets, which are franchises of the Foodstuffs group; SuperValue supermarkets, which are franchises of Woolworths group; and service stations.

*Frankton, From Farm to Inner City, 2014, by Barry Lafferty

** Hamilton Statistics, Compiled by Mr. L.G.Westwood – Sep 1956: Library REF S 919.31151 HAM

Up to the 1960s ‘if you owned some land you could do what you liked with it. You could build a house, a factory, a shop, and it was nobody’s business but your own’ (article in ‘Town and Country Planning’ March 1962). ‘Dairies offer an independent way to own your own business, and the older dairies were often based on people building a room onto the front of their houses and set up a shop selling a few grocery items, confectionery or other easily handled goods’ (Encyclopaedia of New Zealand – Dairies). Many of these dairies are still economically sustainable in today’s economy. People living in the Green and Amber areas of Hamilton support 1 dairy per about 1,300 people, with an average spread of  1 dairy per 0.48 km/sq to 0.97km/sq or an average 400m to 550m radius or 5- to 7-minute walk.

What an entry level dairy could look like

The District Scheme of the 1960s placed dairies in what was called ‘use group 10 – local commercial’ (p27 DS) which made a local dairy a ‘conditional use’ (p34 DS) in residential zones. A ‘conditional user’ was ‘subject to any special condition which the council may impose’. The grey area numbers are distorted by the high density of the Greensboro area between the university and Wairere Drive, which makes the average area per dairy look reasonable, but the ‘special conditions’ reduced the overall number of dairies per person by nearly a half. In the review of the District Scheme in the late 1970s, supermarket franchiser Foodstuffs suggested to town planners that a small ‘dairy grocery would not present an economic proposition’.  More supermarkets were being built in Hamilton, yet local dairies were still economically sustainable even with the ‘special conditions’, which made them look like a block in the middle of a section.

‘Special conditions’ included 5m building set-backs from boundaries
From: Hamilton City District Scheme (Section 1 & 2) First review Aug 1975– page 22-27 (book with hard brown cover) – Library REF S 711 552 209 931 151 HAM

It needs to be said that a local dairy-grocery is an entry level business. By the 1990s the ‘special conditions’, including increasing the amount of land required for setbacks, the provision of verandahs, dust-free access routes for heavy vehicles to access the rear of the building, and there were increased car parking requirements (link) for people living outside the walking catchment. These are onerous if not impossible conditions to impose on someone wanting to start a local dairy/grocery. Below is an explanation of an entry level business.

From Ruhr Museum in Essen DE

In the early 1990s Hamilton City Town Planners noted that ‘As the older retail uses have declined (butchers, fruiterers, dairy-grocers, etc) a variety of business professionals, social and personal services have increased in number. Some of these service uses, particularly repair shops, appear to have taken over premises left by the decline of the old’ (page 33 Nov 1991 DP Part 2b). To me this could be seen as examples of home-based businesses out-growing the home office or garage. I do think the decline in the number of new dairy-groceries could be an outcome of the earlier District Scheme ‘special conditions’ placed on dairy-groceries.  The 1990s Town Plan zoned dairy-groceries in (9.2) the Commercial Small Suburban Zone (CSS), stating that ‘The primary purpose of these zones is to accommodate minor centres and single shops which cater for the retailing and community needs of a population catchment of up to 10,000 people’ (page233 Nov 1991 DP Part 9).

Hayes common is example of repurposing: the buildings have a long history of changing uses. ‘Originally the four shops were occupied by a butcher, grocer, fruiterer and a dairy’.
Hamilton East, Foundation for a Future City: by Barry Lafferty

The ^2012 District Plan said (p105) 5.1.3 ‘Dairies are an important and highly utilised service in suburban areas, providing a typical urban retail service within the community … which are often suitable for walking and cycling. Without such a service people are forced to travel longer distances for everyday items, contributing to congestion and parking difficulties on the City road network … The policies of this plan seek to enable dairies to locate in residential areas provided that the effects to which they give rise are compatible with that residential environment’. Then made it ‘RD = Restricted Discretionary Activity or D = Discretionary Activity’ in residential areas and added to the list of conditions (Page 399) ‘vi) Dairies must locate on corner sites, bounded by roads along two boundaries’.  Interestingly the only new purpose-built dairy-grocery to open in this time was on Hukanui Rd: it was not on a corner and did not have a 5m setback from the boundary as specified under rule (p398) 4.1.3 Specific Standards i) Dairies in the District Plan. This shows the only outcome of the written ‘special conditions’ was to suppress applications.

^2012 Operative District Plan, from meeting 29 June 2012, Public notification 21 July 2012

Rototuna Foodmart

The current District Plan (DP) has removed most of the text on ‘special conditions’ and asks ‘that the building would not dominate the streetscape’. This has produced a good outcome, with two new suburban dairy-groceries*** opening in the past few years and three in the CBD were it is a permitted activity. So there is hope that a local dairy-grocery can again offer an independent way to own your own business. Under current DP 4.3 Rules a Dairy is still a ‘Restricted Discretionary Activity’ (RD), ‘Non-complying Activity’ (NC) or ‘Discretionary Activity’ (D) in different residential areas.

***78 Cabourne Dr, 152 Te Manatu Dr,

Most independent local dairies that opened before the 1960s are still economically sustainable business. If an independent local dairy was again a ‘Permitted Activity’ in all zones it is economically possible to have what the 1970s town planners expected: a local shop to be supported by a population of approximately 1,000 within a 400m radius, which is equal to an area of 0.5 km/sq per dairy or a 5-minute walk.

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Hamilton East to Hillcrest / Riverlea – Local Dairies

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Using Hillcrest West as a benchmark of examples of local dairies, the area has one dairy per 890 people, one per 300 dwellings and an average of 0.29 square km (29 hectares) per dairy, which gives an average radius of 300m (4 minutes) walking distance to a local dairy. The Greensboro area between the University and Hamilton East actually has a shorter average walking distance of 120m (2 minutes). 

The area south-east of Hillcrest West was developed in the late 1960s to 1970s under the Hamilton District Scheme. Local dairies were quite well spaced as development moved south-east, until we get to Cobham Drive and Morrinsville Rd; from there on there are no local dairies. The most southern dairy was on Cambridge Rd opposite Hillcrest primary school, but the location shown below is now a service station.

Cambridge road Hillcrest dairy location shown in the 1990s, after which it became a service station – image from Retrolens

Abel’s 4 Square opened as a supermarket in November 1961: “…it was one of New Zealand’s earliest supermarkets, and Hamilton’s first”*. “[The] Hillcrest store was only a few years behind Auckland’s first Foodtown, opened in Otahuhu in 1958”**.

*Tamahere forum

**Waikato Times story on Abel’s supermarket 7 Apr 2007

The new (early 1960s) Abel’s Four Square supermarket can be seen. From Hamilton Library heritage collection Hillcrest Motors and Abel’s supermarket HCL_14775

Looking east, west or south from Hillcrest New World, there are no local dairies, including near the Riverlea Rd area or near Berkley Middle School. There does not appear to even be a planned location for local dairies in these areas, as there was on the corner of Fitzroy Ave (link) or the corner of Alison St / Hibiscus Ave (link).

Local dairies are businesses; there are risks, and the life of a business can be short. Calculations using area, population and number of dwellings to determine the economic need for a local dairy are an interesting place to start, but still the local dairy may not be sustainable, as the shops on the corner of Aurora Terrace / Vesty Ave (link) show. In contrast, as we can see at the top of Cambridge Rd, two dairies sited across the road from each other can be economically sustainable.

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