Thursday, February 4, 1999

Councilmen raise
fuss on $5 million
sought for 2 tracts

Yoshimura and Bainum point
out the assessments
total just $466,100

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


A plan before the City Council would allocate $5 million to buy two parcels in Aina Haina that city tax assessors say have a combined value of $466,100.

City administration officials and City Council members are pointing fingers at each other over who is pushing for "friendly condemnation" of the two sites to create the Aina Haina Nature Preserve.

"It's land we don't need," said Jon Yoshimura, one of two Council members who opposed the bill in a preliminary vote last week. Duke Bainum was the other Council member voting against it.

"Any amount we pay for it is too much, and clearly, $5 million is a ridiculous figure," Yoshimura said.

The plan, proposed in Mayor Jeremy Harris' supplemental capital improvements budget, is to be taken up at a Council Budget Committee meeting Wednesday.

At issue are two adjoining parcels that have been considered for a cemetery. An 85-acre parcel in preservation zoning was assessed at $255,500 for tax year 1998-99.

The second parcel consists of 9.5 acres zoned for single-family, 7,500-square-foot development. It was assessed at $190,600.

"Assessed value is completely different from appraised value," said Lorrie Lee Stone, attorney for property owner Volumes Co. and developer National Housing Corp.

The Hallstrom Group, hired by Stone's clients, appraised the properties at $10.5 million, she said.

National Housing projected revenues from a cemetery at $240 million over 20 years, Stone said in arguing that the sites' total worth exceeds a half-million dollars.

The city denied approval to her clients to put a cemetery on the properties, an approval that Stone believed wasn't even needed since the cemetery is considered a "principal use" of preservation-zoned land, she said.

A lawsuit could result if the matter is not resolved, Stone said.

Yoshimura, however, said the city should not purchase the property just because Stone and her clients are threatening a lawsuit.

The threat of a lawsuit "has never been one of our considerations," countered city Budget Director Malcolm Tom.

"Our consideration was to oblige the request of the City Council. That's the only reason we're doing it." Pressed to say which Council members requested it, Tom refused to answer.

"Not only is this whole thing very suspicious, the fact that no one wants to take ownership of this idea makes it even more suspicious," Yoshimura said.

Council Vice Chairman John Henry Felix, who represents Aina Haina but disavows the request came from his office, said the lands "ideally would be left in open space."

And while he's not ready to say $5 million is a good purchase price, "now is a good time to acquire it when property values are low and bond interest is low."

Yoshimura accused the administration of taking a backward approach by throwing out the $5 million figure for Council approval without having completed an independent assessment.

Tom said the $5 million is an estimate given by appraiser Raymond Lesher in December.

A full report won't be done until later this month, Tom said.

He added that $5 million would be the top price offered.

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