House bill would limit land seizures
Opponents argue the measure threatens redevelopment plans
A group of House lawmakers is seeking to limit the power of the state and counties to seize private property for public projects.
Local officials see a House bill as a threat to their authority, but some local residents, particularly those organized against the plan to overhaul Honolulu's Kakaako waterfront, support the measure, according to testimony Friday.
Honolulu City Councilman Nestor Garcia told lawmakers he was specifically concerned over what the bill would mean for Honolulu's plans to create a new mass transit system across Oahu.
In written testimony, Garcia said the law would cut into the city's ability to manage development through its zoning powers.
"This bill usurps that authority and effectively negates home rule," Garcia said.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim submitted testimony asking that the bill be killed because it would hobble urban renewal projects on his island, including those to move homes out of the reach of tsunamis.
The bill is a response to a decision this spring in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New London, Conn., had the authority to take local homes for a private development project. The court also noted, however, that state governments can choose to ban that practice.
A number of state legislatures as well as the Congress have since moved to put limits on the power known as eminent domain.
In September the Hawaii Community Development Authority chose a private company to redevelop 36.5 acres of the Honolulu waterfront, including the area surrounding Kewalo Basin. The $650 million plan by private developer A&B Properties Inc. called for high-rise residences, shops, public spaces and possibly a farmers market.
The plan has fallen under criticism from some members of the local community as well as U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who said the plan caters to the wealthy.
"We need to preserve especially oceanfront land for open space, park, green space and access for all to enjoy," wrote Ron Iwami, president of the Kewalo Basin Park Association and an organizer of the Save Our Kakaako Coalition. "This is the essence of Hawaii that makes her special."
The bill passed out of committee during a joint meeting Friday of the Committee of Water, Land & Ocean Resources, along with the Committee on Economic Development & Business Concerns. Lawmakers amended the bill to exempt projects such as mass transit and affordable housing.
Garcia, however, said the bill could still cause problems for local governments because the list of exemptions cannot include every type of public project the government might want to attempt.
"I have concern because when you come up with a laundry list, people look to see who's not on it," he said.