Friday, November 19, 2004

Hokulia’s halt questioned

A developer appeals to the state
high court to repeal a decision
blocking construction


The developer of a multimillion-dollar luxury residential project on the Big Island has asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that halted construction more than a year ago.

1250 Oceanside Partners hope the high court will reverse a ruling by Big Island Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra, who halted work on the Hokulia project until the company obtains urban classification for the land.

The developer wants to build 730 luxury homes on 1-acre lots south of Kona on what is now agriculture-zoned land above Kealakekua Bay. Last September, Ibarra ruled that the Hokulia project was not permitted under the agricultural classification.

The developer also has asked the Supreme Court to expedite its appeal of the lower court's decision.

"The trial court's decision regarding Hokulia is wrong and fundamentally unfair and needs to be corrected immediately by the Supreme Court," John De Fries, Oceanside's chief executive officer, said yesterday after filing court papers.

De Fries argued the ruling has created uncertainty about government land-use permits and approvals, and will have adverse economic impact across the state.

The County of Hawaii, which is party to the lawsuit, also asked for an expedited decision yesterday.

Four individuals and the Protect Keopuka Ohana sued the developer in 2000 to stop the project, claiming the luxury development violated state land use law.

Attorney Alan Murakami, who represents Protect Keopuka Ohana, said the developer raised similar arguments before. These issues were litigated and considered by the lower court, he said.

The main issue, he said, is whether Oceanside obtained the proper approvals. "They failed to get the primary approval from the Land Use Commission to reclassify what they're proposing as fake farms on (agricultural) land," he said.

Oceanside maintains it has complied with all state and county land use requirements and that approval by the Land Use Commission was not required.

Ibarra's ruling has been problematic for the County of Hawaii as well, which is why it is seeking an expedited ruling, a spokeswoman said.

The ruling has confused county Planning Department officials and the public over subdivisions in agricultural districts. It has also raised many questions about the county's authority to administer state land use law, and its ability to enter into agreements with developers, county spokeswoman Janet Snyder said.

Ibarra's ruling had immediate effects, she said. It blocked completion of the Mamalahoa Bypass highway, which was being built by a private developer under a 1998 agreement with the county.

"The citizens of the county may suffer loss of the highway and other public benefits of the Hokulia development unless the appeal is quickly decided," Snyder said in a written statement.

Dean Uchida, executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii, said the development community is concerned about the Hokulia project.

Oceanside acquired all the necessary permits, invested millions in infrastructure and marketed and sold lots, only to have the courts overturn their entitlements, he said. Developers want to see a quick decision from the courts to clarify the ground rules, now and in the future, Uchida said.

Ibarra's decision worries Mike Fitzgerald, a member of Enterprise Honolulu, an organization made up of 100 business members who are working toward economic diversification and economic growth.

He said many investors have put their plans on hold until the Hokulia issue is decided.

"If resolved negatively, these people are just going to go away, and the ripples of this will be horrifically negative for Hawaii," Fitzgerald said.



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