Bert Potter (front) and residents of the Centrepoint Community in Albany. Photo / Supplied
A multimillion-dollar Auckland property that was the site of New Zealand’s most infamous commune, Centrepoint, has been withdrawn from sale without finding a buyer.
The huge site in the city’s north has a council valuation of almost $9 million and had been billed as “one of the last significant underdeveloped landholdings on the fringe of Albany”.
Potter was arrested in 1990 for sexual abuse and drugs crime, with survivors sharing stories of life in the commune in the acclaimed documentary, Heaven and Hell – The Centrepoint Story, in 2021. Many of them had been exploited as children by adults living at the commune.
The commune was shut in 2000 and Potter died in 2012, aged 86.
Since then, the property at 14 Mills Lane has been run as a wellness and retreat centre, before being put up for sale and marketed last year as a big development opportunity.
However, agent Michael Nees, from Bayleys North Shore Commercial, said the property did not get a buyer “so it was withdrawn from the market” at the seller’s wish.
Advertisements for the sale of the site were taken down from property website OneRoof in December.
Council has valued the 7.62ha site at $8.7m, but it is believed the owners had hoped to get more than $10m.
Owners Prema Charitable Trust bought the property in 2008 for just over $4m. The trust operates the Kawai Purapura retreat at the site, which was also home to the Wellpark College of Natural Therapies.
It had been advertised as “an incomparable opportunity” to secure a huge slice of city land where applying for rezoning could generate “considerable value uplift”.
The site sits on land overlooking Albany’s commercial precinct and is close to Albany Bus Station and Westfield shopping centre.
Centrepoint was opened by Potter in 1977 and at its peak had a permit for 244 fulltime residents.
It was based on therapeutic encounter groups popularised in California in the 1960s, promising social transformation by encouraging open communication.
The commune was shut down in 2000 after some leaders, including Potter, were convicted of sexual abuse and drugs crimes.
Potter was convicted and sentenced in 1990 to three and a half years in jail on drug charges and in 1992 to seven and a half years for indecent assaults on five children, some as young as 3.
Other men were also convicted of indecently assaulting minors, sexually assaulting minors and attempted rape of a minor.
A 2010 Massey University study revealed that one in every three children at Centrepoint was sexually abused.
Three survivors from the infamous cult spoke out in 2021, writing an open letter calling for restorative justice for children who were abused.
Christchurch GP Caroline Ansley wrote the letter with two other Centrepoint survivors, who are featured in the TVNZ docudrama Heaven and Hell – The Centrepoint Story.
Ansley said realising she was not the only one who was abused was empowering.
“I had to ask myself what’s worse – fear of exposure or the disappointment of not advocating for the right thing.”
The trio asked in their letter that former Centrepoint members consider “their obligations towards the children of the community” and acknowledge the resulting social, emotional and psychological difficulties many still experience as adults.
“We ask you to hear our voices. We ask you to set aside your complex feelings surrounding this issue and acknowledge our realities. We ask that you work with us to find ways to enable healing and restoration of the history.”
Drugs such as LSD and ecstasy were manufactured on the property and taken in group experiments that involved youngsters.
“This potent mix of social control, parental child neglect, drug use and hyper-sexuality set the scene for child abuse to occur,” the letter stated.
The signatories, some of them anonymous but known to the authors, include Louise Winn. She was only 11 when she was brought to Potter’s hut by his wife Margie. She was later also sexually abused by his son John Potter and other men.
To keep predators away at night, the girl barricaded herself with junk in her caravan on the property or escaped into the bush.