Turtle Bay foes blast City Hall
The Council defers action on a resolution to stop a hotel and condo development
More than 50 community activists, labor, religious leaders and residents called on the Honolulu City Council Zoning Committee yesterday to stop or regulate a wave of proposed development at Turtle Bay Resort, which would bring 3,500 new hotel and condominium units to an otherwise rural area stretching from Kawela Bay to Kahuku Point.
The committee heard testimony on a resolution that urged the city Department of Planning and Permitting not to issue permits that would allow Turtle Bay, the North Shore's only major hotel, to put its two-decade-old master plan in place unless developer Kuilima Resort Co. is in strict compliance with the original agreement.
The council deferred action on the resolution, which was authored by Council President Donovan Dela Cruz, indefinitely due to pending litigation, said Henry Eng, director of the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.
"We aren't making any public comments because of pending litigation and are waiting to hear from our attorneys about what we can and can't do," Eng said, adding that the planning department has not made a decision on the subdivision permit that Turtle Bay submitted in December.
The zoning committee and council have one year to act on the resolution, Dela Cruz said.
Contentious issues have surfaced in the community since Oaktree Capital, which acquired Turtle Bay in 1999 and has since spent $60 million upgrading the once-dilapidated hotel, announced its intention in March to move forward on a development plan that was approved years ago. Turtle Bay Resort's master plan, which included five lodging structures, was expected to be completed by 1996 but never came to fruition due to its then-struggling financial position.
Unite Here Local 5, the hotel workers union, has filed suit to block development because the special management permit and the environmental impact study are now 20 years old.
The union also is pursuing legislation that would keep the city department from approving Turtle Bay's proposed expansion without requiring updated environmental, cultural, social and infrastructure studies, said Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer for Local 5.
Union employees at Turtle Bay, who have been involved in a consumer boycott of the hotel since 2003, have experienced Oaktree's aggressive tactics for squashing workers' rights, such as job security and benefits and their disregard for the community, Gill said.
Last week, Kulima Resort filed a countersuit against the union, said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the company.
Development, which is still as much as two years out, will create an estimated 2,500 jobs for the region and stimulate the North Shore's economy by establishing Turtle Bay as one of Hawaii's finest destinations, Carlson said. The master plan provisions for four public parks, a job-training center, a child-care center, five public rights of way to beaches, and a 100-foot shoreline easement for public use, he said.
Members of the Kahuku Community Association supported the project back in the 1980s and they support it now, said Don Hurlbut, president of the Kahuku Community Association.
"Economic development would be good for the North Shore because it will bring jobs and affordable housing to our area," Hurlbut said, adding that many residents who are living in the rural region must take jobs in town to earn a living wage.
"Some people are spending 10 to 14 hours a day away from home," Hurlbut said.
Others like Peter Cole, who first opposed the plan when it was presented in mid-1980s because of potential negative impacts on the region's environment, traffic conditions and quality of life, are outraged that the long-dormant plan could resurface without much due diligence on the part of elected officials and state agencies.
"It's a travesty," Cole said both of the proposed development at Turtle Bay and of the council's failure to take a position on the resolution.
When the original agreement went into effect, Kawela Bay residents were forced out of their homes, which were then demolished, a few pilings constructed and public access eliminated, Cole said.
"With the ridiculous unilateral agreement stating that all public amenities would come only after project completion, the public no longer had access to one of the nicest beaches on the island with the only results being a few ugly pilings that are still there," Cole said.
Cole, who represents the Surfrider Foundation, Oahu Chapter, said the city should make past zoning and the associated unilateral agreement void along with the EIS and require Kuilima Resort Co. to go through the entire planning, permitting and zoning process from scratch.
"To implement this plan 20 years after it was first approved is just obscene," said Mark Cunningham, who is a member of the Defend Oahu Coalition, which was formed to protect the North Shore from large-scale development. "I just don't get it -- they make you renew your car registration annually -- but they'll approve this."