Land-use decisions will cut deep into Molokai’s future
An environmental review for luxury homes at Laau has been withdrawn by the developer.
A luxury housing project proposed for a sweeping coastal area on Molokai speaks to the future of an island that has resisted large-scale development and sprawling growth that other parts of the state have experienced.
With the potential to alter Molokai's rural qualities and the small remnants of a subsistence lifestyle in Hawaii, the stakes are too high to base decisions about land, water and other limited resources on scant or flawed data.
The project's developers should deliver and the state Land Use Commission should insist on information that correctly evaluates the consequences of building on Laau Point.
Molokai Ranch, a subsidiary of a Hong Kong-based company with holdings of nearly a third of the island and its largest employer, withdrew an environmental impact statement last week when it appeared a critical staff report by the commission was about to be issued and a motion to reject its statement was on the table.
Rejection would have tripped up Molokai Ranch's request to have 1,113 acres of agricultural land reclassified to allow building high-priced homes at Laau, an area subsistence fishers call their "icebox" and that contains archaeological and cultural sites, which the developers promised to preserve.
The company has worked for years to gain residents' approval for its plans, offering to set aside 26,700 acres of its land holdings in a community trust and an easement to control use of another 23,000 acres.
It hoped the promise of jobs on the island with high unemployment and a weak tourism industry would prove attractive to residents who have found increasing land prices leaving them unable to own homes while wealthy investors snatch up large tracts of prime real estate.
Some in the community believe the deal poses the best hope for controlling growth and their destiny, but others see the trade-off as the first inroad for changes they do not want. Moreover, they are skeptical of the trust, predicting continuing conflict over land and resources regardless.
During the commission hearing, criticism focused on the amount of water the ranch's projects, which include renovation of a hotel and golf course, would draw and whether future agricultural and Hawaiian home lands demands could be met. Also, experts questioned why land ranked high in quality for agricultural cultivation should be relinquished for multimillion-dollar homes.
The debate is typical for Hawaii but is intensified by Molokai's position as the last island standing up to the pressures of real-estate development.