Turtle Bay expansion gets tentative OK
Community groups blast city leaders for the move
Developers have won tentative approval to move forward with expansion plans for the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore.
The city Department of Planning and Permitting granted tentative approval of Kuilima Resort Co.'s subdivision application on Sept. 29, department director Henry Eng said yesterday.
While the approval is only tentative, and only one step forward in the review process, it has raised the hackles of community groups battling the project.
At stake is a massive development planned for Turtle Bay Resort, which will add 3,500 more hotel and condominium units to an open rural area stretching from Kawela Bay to Kahuku Point.
Kuilima Resort originally obtained approvals for its master development plan 20 years ago, only to be stalled by financial problems. Its current owner, Oaktree Capital, wants to revive the plans.
"Despite overwhelming opposition, the city and county has chosen to ignore the voices of the people and is allowing an outdated development plan to proceed unchecked," said Kevin Kelly, a Kahuku resident and member of the Defend Oahu Coalition.
The coalition is planning another campaign of sign-waving along Kamehameha Highway this weekend, along with candlelight vigils in front of Honolulu Hale and the resort later this month.
With the tentative approval in hand, Kuilima has a year to comply with the city's remaining concerns and recommendations before getting final approval. That deadline could be extended anywhere from two to six months.
But plenty of hurdles still remain for Kuilima, which faces a lawsuit filed in May by Keep the North Shore Country, a nonprofit group that is seeking an injunction against further ground work and construction at the resort until the completion of a supplemental impact statement.
"It's not over," said Gil Riviere, president of the group. "It's not over at all. ... This will play out before the judge."
But Riviere blasted city leaders for failing to take a stand, despite what he described as overwhelming public opposition to the expansion plans.
Honolulu City Council members in March deferred action on a resolution to stop the expansion plans indefinitely due to the pending litigation.
"We don't know what the administration has to gain by going against the community's wishes or going against the law by issuing the approvals," said Jeff Mikulina, director of Sierra Club Hawaii, which joined forces with Keep the North Shore Country in the suit.
Supporters of the development say it will bring new jobs to the area, but North Shore residents cite traffic concerns, and fear the disappearance of the area's rural character forever.
Still, Kuilima is moving ahead with its Kawela Bay plans, saying it will continue to work with the community.
"It was a rigorous, time-consuming endeavor and we responded to the city's numerous requests for information over the year-long process," said Nicola Jones, CEO of Kuilima Resort, in a written statement. "This is a small step forward."
Kuilima is looking at creative, innovative solutions to address the community's concerns, she said.
For instance, it is moving ahead with a public park at Kawela Bay, scheduled for dedication early next year. The park, says Jones, is part of more than 520 acres of Kuilima's 860-acre property to be protected as open space.
"These types of controls were put in place as a result of discussions with the community nearly 20 years ago to ensure the project complements the beauty of the North Shore," she said, "and we know that ongoing feedback from the community is critical."
Mayor Mufi Hannemann, in a written statement, said he is personally opposed to Kuilima's original expansion proposal, but the company is entitled to the orderly processing of its subdivision applications.
"I am strongly urging Kuilima to continue to pay careful attention to the concerns expressed by North Shore residents and others," Hannemann said. "At all times, the Department of Planning and Permitting must abide by applicable laws and monitor compliance with the conditions of the original land use approvals obtained 20 years ago."