Judge OKs high-end housing at Hokulia
A settlement requires developers to provide at least $50M to the rural Kona locale
KEALAKEKUA, Hawaii » Big Island Circuit Court Judge Ronald Ibarra yesterday approved a settlement of the five-year-old Hokulia land-use lawsuit, giving the developer the right to resume construction of a multimillion-dollar housing development.
Ibarra also required the developer to seek "rural" designation for the project from the state, and provide at least $50 million in community benefits such as affordable housing, drug treatment and educational support.
Since 2001, the suit had pitted the Protect Keopuka Ohana and four individuals against developer 1250 Oceanside Partners over construction of the 1,550-acre Hokulia residential project on agricultural land. It also caused uncertainty statewide about what kind of housing is legal on agricultural land.
Yesterday, Ohana chief executive Jim Medeiros declared in a statement, "The war is over."
Oceanside Chief Executive John De Fries estimated the total value of community benefits could be as much as $100 million.
Medeiros, who is a cousin of De Fries, said, "This is the biggest community package I ever knew of."
But the cultural guarantees regarding burials, a Hawaiian trail, and other matters were more important for him.
"We're about cultural uses. We get input on everything," he said.
The agreement sets up a permanent Hokulia Foundation, which will be funded by:
» One-and-three-quarter percent of the revenues from lot sales, conservatively valued at roughly $12 million.
» One-quarter percent of resale revenues, of unknown value.
» Reimbursements to the county, passed through to Oceanside, for the value of adjoining private lands used for a new highway, worth up to $34 million.
» Additional donations totaling $1.2 million. Oceanside also promises to build 168 affordable housing units in Kona.
When completed, the development is expected to generate up to $45 million a year in property taxes for the county, De Fries said.
In return for the benefits, the plaintiffs agreed not to stand in the way of Oceanside as it complies with a new directive from Ibarra to go to the state Land Use Commission to obtain "rural" designation for Hokulia lands.
In rulings in 2003 and 2004, Ibarra had ordered Hokulia to seek "urban" designation for the lands that are currently classified as agricultural.
Rural designation is seen as being more flexible, since it allows aspects of both urban and agricultural uses.
Obtaining rural designation might come quickly or might take up to two years, said attorney Robert Kim, who represents the plaintiffs.
There is no assurance that the Land Use Commission would grant the designation, in which case the Hokulia lands would remain in agricultural designation but not be subject to further challenges from the plaintiffs.
Since Ibarra's ruling yesterday cancels prior rulings, it reinstates certain county zoning rights that Oceanside had previously obtained.
Certain elements have now been dropped from the project.
A 100-room members lodge, which Ibarra had previously banned but might have been pursued through an alternate avenue, is dropped.
The number of one-acre house lots is reduced to 665 from a previous 750.
Five house lots around the culturally significant hill, Puu Ohau, will be placed in conservation designation and not developed.
A public park will be expanded to five acres from the previously promised two acres.