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State gives $1 billion Bridge Aina Lea developers another chance


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POSTED: Saturday, June 06, 2009

Developers of the $1 billion Bridge Aina Lea project on the Big Island have a second shot at it.

The state Land Use Commission decided yesterday to stay, or hold, a previous decision to reclassify some 1,060 acres of Waikoloa land from urban back to agricultural use.

Members of the commission also decided to schedule a one-day hearing to give the developers a chance to present evidence that the project is on track to meet its affordable-housing requirements.

“;It's a workable, practical decision,”; said Alan Okamoto, attorney for DW Aina Lea LLC, which filed the motion for the stay. “;The commission's going to hear everybody out. I think that's a fair way to proceed.”;

On April 30 the commission, in a rare move, reverted the lands back to agricultural after developer Bridge Aina Lea failed to make progress on 385 affordable homes it is required to complete by Nov. 17, 2010.

Developer Bridge Aina Lea LLC, an affiliate of a real estate development company based in the U.S. Virgin Islands, announced original plans for the project as early as 2005, when it won approval from the LUC to develop it with only 20 percent, rather than 60 percent, set aside for affordable work-force housing.

The master plan was to have included 1,924 housing units, a shopping center, park and golf course between Mauna Lani Resorts and Waikoloa Village.

In 1991 the project was originally approved as a development by Japan-based Nansay Hawaii, then called Puako Hawaii, with the 60 percent requirement in place.

Nevada-based DW Aina Lea LLC has since entered the picture, with a purchase agreement for the entire project from Bridge in place, and wants to demonstrate how it will fulfill the affordable-housing requirements, to which it will take final title, according to managing partner Robert J. Wessels.

The deal has been structured, however, so that Bridge will still own 5 percent of the parcel.

“;Our team is very focused on the goal,”; Wessels told the commission yesterday, “;and the goal is affordable housing.”;

Wessels described the affordable project as three- and four-bedroom townhomes in groups of 16. Surfacing and grading could be completed by August 2010, while road and water improvements are under way, he said.

The County of Hawaii, which has granted the developer subdivision approval, also told the commission that it supported the project.

The state Office of Planning, however, recommended denial of the stay, given the many opportunities the developer has had to meet requirements.

“;We all really wanted to see a project there,”; said Abbey Mayer, director of the state Office of Planning, “;but we felt the representation and conditions are so far broken that a reclassification would be inappropriate.”;

Meyer also said the integrity of the land-use classification process is at stake. DW can take title of the lands from Bridge, he said, and then come back to the LUC to file a petition.

Only one commissioner—Kauai representative Thomas Contrades—voted against the stay yesterday.