One Of The Shadier Land Deals

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - March 04, 2009
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Time whizzes by. How many of you remember that 25 years ago we had the most raucous, violent, costly, anti-development uprising in the history of the Hawaiian Islands?

It was over a windy, coral-sprinkled, little-used beach area that didn’t even rate a place name in Mary Pukui’s book of Hawaiian sites. It was on east Kauai and a few locals knew it as Nukolii.

Before the shouting was over and the hotel and condos had been built there were two no-injury bombings at Mayor Eduardo Malapit’s office, a Hawaii Supreme Court case, two build/no build elections and something well in excess of $20 million down the tubes for the end-use developer, Hasegawa Komuten.

But do you remember?

The Nukolii acreage, unused and no good for sugar, was sold on agreement of sale by Amfac to a hui of politically powerful people headed by the late Pundy Yokouchi of Maui for $1.2 million.


 

Amfac’s primary agent for the sale didn’t disclose that he’d joined Yokouchi’s hui as an investor or tell the state rezoning panel that Amfac had sold and wasn’t seeking resort use for itself but for another.

The hui quickly resold the land to Pacific Standard Insurance for $5.2 million - a very nice profit indeed!

However, in those days such quick turnover and rezoning deals were regular happenings in Hawaii and usually the huis were made up of in-office politicians, government agency employees, lawyers who did business with the power elite and relatives of high-office holders.

But the Nukolii deal looked so shady that it stuck in the craw of a large body of Kauai residents as county agencies did the usual rush-rush approval of building and zoning permits.

The people were saying “no” while their government was saying “yes.”

The “no” voices got louder. There was vandalism at the construction site, the two bombs at Malapit’s office and letters threatening assassinations.

The Committee to Save Nukolii was arousing the island to open rebellion. There were sit downs, people fighting (and biting) police, police dragging people away.

So a referendum was held and the voters turned down the development. But a Circuit Court judge overturned that, saying the developer had a vested right to keep building because he’d already erected some condos and was partially along with the hotel, even if the zoning wasn’t perfect.

Then the state Supreme Court shocked the business community when it overruled the judge and said the referendum stood, that Hasegawa should have known the permits were up in the air and held off building. Did that mean tear everything down and restore the land?


Nope. Hasegawa and others spent a fortune, but got a second vote on the ballot through initiative. It won that one, 58 to 42 percent. People seemed to have tired of the long, sometimes violent, fight.

Today, the site is the Hilton Kauai Beach Resort, five floors, 25 acres, plus condos. Still windy, still a lousy beach for swimming.

Competition’s tough so rooms are selling as low as $150 a night on the Internet.

The vocal anti-development movement faded into the background until last year when some of it was resuscitated for the Hawaii Superferry protests.

Nukolii is the most interesting of all the Hawaii stories about our love/hate relationship with development, hugely bigger than the mutterings over building at the foot of Diamond Head, and with much graver warnings about people in government teaming up hand-in-pocket with business.

The fight left many dispirited. One resident said in a newspaper letter:

“If you don’t like government or corporate decisions, don’t bother following your heart, intelligence and the laws. Force yourself to just lay back and say, ‘Who cares?’” Offhand, I’m inclined to agree with OHA and others who object to legislative proposals to let the University of Hawaii regulate all public and commercial use atop Mauna Kea, home of all those telescopes.

UH leases the public-trust land from the state land department and then doles out use to various astronomy agencies and even foreign countries. All for good science, that’s true.

But giving it total public and commercial control would be no different from the state leasing public land to a developer and telling him, “You go ahead and do whatever you want with it, you’re in charge.”

It would be removing the sensible barrier between the regulator and the regulated.

I’m hoping lawmakers will rethink this.

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