Council considers offer to split up Waimea
The proposal is criticized by those against development in the Waimea Valley
THE CITY COUNCIL will consider an offer today to settle the 4-year-old condemnation lawsuit over 1,875-acre Waimea Valley but apparently is stirring up complaints from opponents of developing the area.
Those familiar with the case say that the settlement proposal includes the city keeping the current 300 acres of park including Waimea Falls. But to prevent the city from having to spend more the $5.2 million already deposited with the court, the Council would also agree to subdivide the rest of the valley to be kept by the landowner.
"We all thought the battle over Waimea Valley was over, that Waimea was saved," said Scott Foster, spokesman for community organization Stewards of Waimea Valley. "It will be turned into God knows what."
The valley was purchased in 1996 by New York investor Christian Wolffer, but in 2000, he put the property up for sale for $25 million.
Wolffer declared bankruptcy in 2001, and later that year, the city filed suit to acquire the valley. The plan called for turning the property into a park, setting aside $5.2 million for the purchase.
But the final price could go a lot higher which is what worries some city leaders.
"There is still this condemnation and how much we owe," said Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi.
The Waimea park is now operated by the National Audubon Society as Waimea Valley Audubon Center.
Part of the proposal appears to call for the back of the valley to be subdivided into eight parcels for development of about a half-dozen homes. Attractions Hawaii, owned by Wolffer, however, would have to obtain other government agency approvals. Under the proposal, part of the valley would be used by Attractions Hawaii as a ecological camp for tourists.
Councilman Charles Djou, chairman of the Council's Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, said it would be fiscally responsible for the city to agree to the settlement.
"I think this is the least worst solution. It allows the city to retain control of the front portion of the valley and it preserves it ... without shelling out more money," Djou said.
In a rare move, Mayor Mufi Hannemann is calling the City Council into today's special meeting as the Committee of the Whole to consider the settlement offer. Hannemann said in a letter to the Council that the Council must act before December to satisfy a court deadline.
Hannemann's move came because Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the district that includes Waimea Valley, refused to place the settlement offer on the agenda for Council consideration, his colleagues say.
"Obviously I'm not comfortable with the settlement," Dela Cruz said, declining to comment further.
Kobayashi said, "He is very much against any real commercialization (of the valley). He doesn't want any attractions or rides."
But Kobayashi said that she is also concerned about keeping the valley in its natural state.
Dolores Blalock, an associate professor at California State University at Chico who has written about Waimea Valley, also said subdividing the valley would be a loss.
"I believe that ahupuaa is so important that it needs to be kept united," she said of the mountain-to-ocean land division. "It's the last sacred valley."