Waimea Valley deal rejected
Community members protest development in the valley, spurring the Council's 9-0 vote
THE CITY COUNCIL has unanimously rejected a deal that would have settled a condemnation lawsuit by allowing some luxury housing development in Waimea Valley.
After the vote yesterday afternoon, the attorney for the New York-based investor in the midst of that court battle said his client is willing to continue settlement talks, but only if Mayor Mufi Hannemann -- not the Council -- leads those discussions.
"He has no confidence in the City Council to mediate," said attorney Bill McCorriston, who represents Christian Wolffer of Waimea landowner Attractions Hawaii.
City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the area that includes Waimea Valley, said the Council would have to approve any settlement. "Like it or not, that's the role given the City Council by our City Charter," he said.
McCorriston's comments came after the Council soundly rejected the settlement offer that included giving Wolffer the ability to build homes in the back of the 1,875-acre valley and develop an ecological camp in another part of the valley. The city would be able to keep the front 300 acres occupied by the Waimea Valley Audubon Center, currently operated by the National Audubon Society.
At yesterday's hearing the Council heard from the president of the National Audubon Society, trustees with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and state officials pledging to find the financial support needed to purchase the valley from Wolffer.
"We'd like to work with the corporation counsel, the city, with the mediator to get the best price we can and then put the financial package together and come back to you at the next Council meeting," said Audubon President John Flicker, who has been in town garnering financial support.
McCorriston said the mayor has asked whether they are interested in participating in further mediation.
McCorriston said that going back to settlement talks will depend on the ground rules. He said Wolffer refuses to negotiate with the Audubon Society for their "disingenuous" testimony yesterday.
"If there are further negotiations, it would have to be with the mayor leading the charge," McCorriston said.
The 9-0 vote against the offer came two weeks after the Council gave preliminary approval to the proposal by a vote of 5-4.
First Deputy Corporation Counsel Donna Woo said the focus is now on preparing for the Feb. 13 trial.
"I don't know what's going to happen next. It depends on whether Mr. Wolffer is interested in coming to the bargaining table. It depends on whether or not we can marshal up the resources to reach any kind of settlement," Woo said.
After the vote, McCorriston said, "Actually, Christian is a little bit relieved. He had seller's remorse. He thought he had given too good a deal."
North Shore residents, environmentalists and valley supporters packed the Council chambers during three hours of testimony to oppose the development plans and to tell the Council there is only one way to preserve the valley.
"Reject the settlement and go to court. You have a good hand. ... You are not going to get hurt by any jury of your peers," said attorney James Case, who represents the nonprofit group Stewards of Waimea and who has handled dozens of condemnation cases.
Testifiers also told the Council that the valley is filled with environmental and cultural treasures that need to be protected from development.
"Don't settle, don't settle, don't settle," North Shore Outdoor Circle President Nancy John testified. "Don't sell us out. You owe us this. This is what the people want."
Sunset Beach fifth-grader Tate Antolini Newfield said he has been going to Waimea Valley since he was a baby. "I feel that the proposal to divide up the valley and allow private homes above the waterfall is disrespectful."
OHA trustee Rowena Akana told the Council, "OHA is very serious about acquiring this property, either by ourselves or with other people. Mostly we want partnerships."
OHA Trustee Dante Carpenter said an appraisal of the valley done by OHA in September 2001 came in between $5.3 million and $6.5 million. The city has already paid $5.1 million for the property.
State Reps. Michael Magaoay and Brian Schatz both told the Council that they plan to introduce legislation next session for an appropriation to assist in purchasing the valley.
Dela Cruz said that by those groups coming forward and agreeing to help foot the bill on any purchase price, it helped convince the five Council members to change their votes. "That made the difference."
The five members who changed their vote were Todd Apo, Charles Djou, Romy Cachola, Gary Okino and Rod Tam. Dela Cruz, Ann Kobayashi, Barbara Marshall and Nestor Garcia continued to vote against the settlement.