Friday, April 13, 2001

Campbell Estate
selling half of
land holdings

The Big Island site is 45%
of the trust's state property
but only a part of its
U.S. land holdings

By Tim Ruel

The Estate of James Campbell is putting up for sale a 27,785-acre piece of densely forested land in Puna that represents nearly half of the 101-year-old trust's total land holdings in Hawaii.

Campbell Estate Known as Wao Kele O Puna, the relatively quiet property south of Hilo was once subject to controversy over native Hawaiian access rights and geothermal development.

Real estate firm Colliers Monroe Friedlander is marketing the land without a specific asking price as an opportunity for a buyer to own a major piece of fee-simple land in Hawaii.

Campbell Estate is a private, for-profit trust set up in 1900 for the heirs of Scottish carpenter James Campbell, who bought more than 84,000 acres in Hawaii before his death.

Under the terms of Campbell's will, the trust will dissolve Jan. 20, 2007.

Campbell Estate began diversifying its land holdings in 1974 when the estate bought its first U.S. mainland properties in California. The trust now owns 41 office, retail and industrial properties in 14 states on the mainland totaling 9.8 million square feet.

"We see Wao Kele O Puna as an opportunity for further diversification by converting it from a large land holding to a financial asset," said Dave McCoy, chief executive of Campbell Estate.

Wao Kele O Puna represents the bulk of the estate's holdings on the Big Island and about 45 percent of its total 62,500 acres statewide. In West Oahu, Campbell owns much of the land under the growing city of Kapolei and Campbell Industrial Park.

The trust is always looking for opportunities to buy and sell land in Hawaii and on the mainland, Campbell spokeswoman Theresia McMurdo said. Last year, the estate sold off 14 properties in six states.

Earlier this year, Campbell Estate listed the 4,340-acre Nu'u Ranch in West Maui for sale at $6.5 million. The remote property is leased to Kaupo Ranch for cattle ranching.

James Campbell never purchased Wao Kele O Puna, but did buy the property next door, Kahauale'a, at public auction in 1892. The trust later acquired Wao Kele O Puna from the state of Hawaii in 1986 by swapping it for Kahauale'a. Environmentalists proposed the trade because they considered Kahauale'a to be more pristine forest land than Wao Kele O Puna.

The Pele Defense Fund, however, sued to undo the exchange, arguing that making Wao Kele O Puna private would block traditional forms of access to native Hawaiians. The fund also opposed a geothermal development proposed for the area.

The suit did not undo the land swap, but instead led to a controversial Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that native Hawaiians have hunting and gathering rights on private property, including the Campbell land.

Meanwhile, the property up for sale still carries a license for geothermal development that runs through Jan. 31, 2016. For now, the permit is only used by the state to monitor two geothermal wells.

The offering of Wao Kele O Puna may draw the interest of a nature conservancy group, said Joel LaPinta, a commercial Realtor with Prudential Orchid Isle Properties in Hilo.

The property's forest is ohia, which is not as attractive to prospective timber firms as koa, noted LaPinta, who is also president of the Hawaii Island Board of Realtors in Hilo.

LaPinta also said he was not aware of any geothermal development companies looking for projects on the Big Island.

Wao Kele O Puna is technically broken up into three parcels, two of which are zoned for conservation and comprise the bulk of the property. A third parcel is zoned for agriculture and allows for the building of a residence, provided that the home is tied in with appropriate uses of farming.

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