Developer sees OK to build at Ward site
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The developer of the Whole Foods Market store at Ward Village Shops site in Kakaako says it considers the project cleared for completion, but the state is under even more scrutiny for how it is handling native Hawaiian remains.
This month, the state authorized General Growth Properties to remove 10 sets of remains beneath the planned Whole Foods store site, saying that the remains were not associated with a historic burial site.
The state's move, only two months after ordering developer General Growth to redesign its project and preserve 30 burials in place, has angered native Hawaiian opponents.
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FL MORRIS / FLMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Above, the Ward Village Shops construction site yesterday, where Whole Foods Market will be located. Construction has continued despite the discovery of up to 55 native Hawaiian burial sites.
The path has been cleared for the construction of the planned Whole Foods Market store in Kakaako, although controversy continues to brew over how the native Hawaiian remains there have been handled.
"We're very happy to be able to move forward with construction," said Jan Yakota, General Growth Properties' vice president of development in Hawaii.
Construction will proceed with the parking garage and the Whole Foods Market at the Ward Village Shops site, she said, which is expected to be completed by late 2008.
General Growth, meanwhile, is reviewing its options for the Ewa side of the construction site, near the current Pier 1 Imports store, where a 17-story rental tower was planned.
Laura Thielen, interim chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, helped pave the way for continued work on the store site by authorizing the relocation of 10 burials there, at the request of General Growth.
General Growth's estimated $150 million project is expected to include a 67,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, parking garage, residential tower and additional retail shops on a 6-acre site bound by Auahi, Kamakee and Queen Streets.
The current count of the remains, meanwhile, has grown to 55, with the latest discovery identified as an infant.
The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and Paulette Kaleikini, a recognized cultural descendant of some of the area's in a suit filed by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. against the state and General Growth last year, when the number of remains known on the site was 11.
For Kaleikini, it was a turnaround from June, when historic division administrator Melanie Chinen told General Growth to redesign its project to preserve 30 burials in place. A few days later, Chinen also requested additional testing at the Whole Foods site because it was beginning to resemble the Ewa side.
Two weeks ago, Thielen authorized the removal of 10 burials from the Whole Foods site, reasoning that they were not associated with a concentration of burials, important individuals or within a context of historic properties.
Consideration was also given to the lack of consensus among recognized cultural descendants and the current stage of the development.
Most of these burials, according to General Growth in its Aug. 15 letter, were in extremely poor condition with evidence of extensive disturbance from previous construction.
Before the site was cleared, it was home to a retail center housing Starbucks, Jamba Juice and others, as well as an office building and warehouse.
Kaleikini disagreed with the conclusions drawn by Thielen about the site's historical context.
"Native Hawaiians regard all aina where iwi kupuna are found as a sacred ground and it cradles the history of our ohana and our people," she said. "For native Hawaiians, a burial ground is a historic property."
Also, she said if the remains were fragmented because of previous construction, they should have been left in place to prevent further damage and separation.
"This is hewa (wrong)," said Kaleikini. "The disinterment of the iwi may be separating an ohana. Now the spirits will be looking for their missing ohana member. This is hewa."
Thomas Dye, president of the Society of Hawaiian Archaeology, in July said his professional estimate of burials at the site was closer to 335, which would mean there is a concentration of burials there.
Alan Murakami, litigation director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said this is why a comprehensive study must be done before the start of construction, planning or design.
"Requirements for a study should have been a demand before anything was done," said Murakami. "We're so concerned that these situations not be thrust upon the descendants when it's entirely avoidable."
Thielen declined to comment due to the pending litigation.
The controversy comes as the state agency comes under growing scrutiny.
A new coalition, calling itself the Friends of the State Historic Preservation Division, formed earlier this month to urge Gov. Linda Lingle to remedy the state agency with a competent set of dedicated managers.
With more than 20 staff members having left the division since 2004, the coalition said the agency's backlog of permit applications has spiraled into the hundreds.