Speculators do not appreciate rural North Shore's real value


POSTED: Tuesday, February 03, 2009

As far as jobs go, they don't get much better than mine. For the past five years, I've started every workday at sunrise, saddling horses and taking residents and visitors riding along the pristine beaches of Turtle and Kawela bays. To encounter nature on such a grand scale, while riding in the spiritual presence of Hawaiian burial grounds, is a humbling experience, and it has been one of the pleasures of my life to work alongside the tight-knit ohana at Turtle Bay Resort in such a beautiful and awe-inspiring setting.

In recent years the development arm of the resort company proposed a massive construction plan, one that would change forever the face of not only the property, but the North Shore and Windward Oahu. Using an environmental impact statement and permits dating from the 1980s, developers would add five hotels and a thousand resort condominiums to one of the last remaining rural stretches of this island. Some argue that the expansion is needed for jobs, and some feel that it will accommodate yet-to-be-seen throngs of willing tourists coming to experience part of the “;true Hawaii”; that the resort advertises. Most, however, feel that such massive development would threaten the viability of the existing resort by compromising the very reason that guests come to the country, or as Turtle Bay recently described it, “;(true Hawaii is) pristine, unspoiled North Shore beaches ... unobstructed views of crystalline ocean.”;

  I am not opposed to development. I am opposed to development that is untimely and unsustainable. Last year during her State of the State address, Gov. Linda Lingle responded to an enormous outcry from residents and visitors to “;Keep the Country COUNTRY!”; with a proposal for the state to facilitate the purchase of the undeveloped land surrounding the hotel at Turtle Bay in preservation for future generations. An advisory working group was formed to establish the feasibility of such a plan by working with private entities, nonprofits and governmental agencies to ensure the open space on property would not fall prey to the bulldozer or become covered in concrete.

Since that time the owner of the resort (mainland speculator Oaktree Capital) has defaulted on a series of loans and allowed the property to fall into the limbo of receivership. The banks that currently control the future of the hotel appointed local developer Stanford Carr to oversee the project and squeeze as much money out of the property as is possible. Not surprisingly, Carr recently described a “;silent majority”; of residents who support the proposed expansion at Turtle Bay, ostensibly as a job creator (Star-Bulletin, Jan. 8). What he fails to mention is that the vast majority of workers at the existing resort vehemently oppose the development as something that would threaten their quality of life and drive away potential hotel guests. Traffic, crumbling infrastructure and lack of adequate facilities to accommodate such construction are some of the reasons a vocal majority of residents of the North Shore and Koolau Loa balk at such grandiose plans.

Efforts at obtaining help from Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the City Council or the Department of Planning and Permitting have been met with frustration. While the mayor has gone on record as being personally opposed to further development at Turtle Bay, his administration remains frozen under the threat of a lawsuit by the developer. Meanwhile, the DPP continues to grant permit extensions to a resort company that is itself embroiled in a legal dispute (for a supplemental EIS) and is currently defending its expansion plans before the state Land Use Commission. With two failed attempts by state and private interests to purchase the property, the developer seems unwilling to compromise the scale of the project simply because it is not acceptable to their bottom line. I am left wondering if the resort developer's promise to “;bring all sides together”; was serious or if this community will be forced to live with the threat of another Waikiki for years to come.

  While she did not mention the proposed development at Turtle Bay in her most recent State of the State address, the governor did note that “;(a) better future is one that transitions us from an economy overreliant on land development to one that is innovation-driven and relies on the capacity of our people.”; Hope can be gleaned from her call for “;green-collar jobs”; as well as a Land and Ocean-Based Recreation Plan. A failure of imagination as the economic forecast grows increasingly bleak has prompted many (such as the governor) to ask that we not continue “;business as usual,”; but instead live within our means and position ourselves for a brighter future.

From the saddle, I know that a brighter future means not only working hard and doing what is right, but not being afraid to dream. Eco-tourism, recreational and cultural-based activities and utilizing areas primed to harness the wind and sun are just some of the ideas residents are eager to explore. In my estimation, the burden ultimately lies with the developer at Turtle Bay to do what is pono for the people, not just what is profitable for their pocketbooks. For we will either have good, sustainable jobs and open space in Hawaii, or eventually we will have neither.

Tim Vandeveer is a stable hand at Turtle Bay Resort. He is currently serving as co-chairman of the Defend Oahu Coalition.