Community opposition towards the planned Turtle Bay resort expansion has been strong since the resort’s previous owner Oaktree Capital Management announced plans to revive the decades-old plan in 2005, before the company defaulted on its $400 million debt to Credit Suisse and Wells Fargo, causing the resort to linger in foreclosure since 2007. Kuilima Resort Company (KRC), now headed by local developer and Maui born Standford Carr, plans on expanding the current hotel from less than 500 rooms to 4000 hotel and condominium units. Community members have been working to prevent the development from being built, making various attempts to put a stop to the expansion.
On September 8 2009, the community preservation group Keep the North Shore Country, and the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to decide whether a supplemental environmental review of the proposed expansion is necessary. In the brief they filed, the organizations ask for reversal of the blanket rule, which states that agencies would never be required or even allowed to consider changes in a project’s environment, no matter how potentially significant the environmental impacts may be.
The last environmental impact statement (EIS), which was completed back in 1985, does not take into consideration significant community and environmental changes that have become relevant in the 24 years since the last EIS was finished. Environmental changes that community members are concerned with include the estimated increase of 2,050 additional cars per hour on Kamehameha Highway that was determined from a 2005 traffic study done for KRC, as well as the nesting of endangered species like the Hawaiian Monk Seal around the proposed construction area—neither of which are included in the original EIS.
In 2006, the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) made the decision that Kuilima Resort Company, would not be required to produce an EIS for their 25-year-old plan to expand the Turtle Bay Resort. That same year, Keep the North Shore Country and the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club filed suit to compel the DPP to require a supplemental EIS. Both the Circuit Court and Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Kuilima Resort Company and the City and County of Honolulu, and decided that as long as there would be no changes to the project design, no supplemental EIS would be required regardless of how much the project’s surrounding environment changes.
In September, support was shown for North Shore when six state and national conservation organizations, represented by non-profit public interest law firm Earthjustice, filed a brief in the Hawaii Supreme Court asking the court to take up the appeal of the two Keep the North Shore Country and the Sierra Club. Much to the relief of opponents to the expansion, the Hawaii Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of the community organizations and scheduled a hearing on December 17.
On February 5 the Defend Oahu Coalition (DOC) appeared before the State Land Use Commission (LUC) for the sixth time regarding a motion the coalition made requesting the LUC to reclassify 236 of the 880 acres of urban-zoned land that developers hope to build the Turtle Bay Resort expansion on. After the LUC attempted to deny the motion, they then attempted to approve it, and with no votes for either option, concluded the hearing without a ruling on the motion.
The LUC had changed the zoning of the property from agriculture to urban back in 1986 when they gave the hopeful developers the go-ahead for the expansion of the North Shore’s only luxury hotel. Since very little has been done in 25 years by KRC, residents and community activists feel the developer’s window to build has ran it course. According to one source, when the decision was made in 1986, the LUC didn’t set a time limit but if the same thing had been done today, there would be a time frame for the developers to complete the project.
The coalition made their initial motion, which specifically requests the issuance of a show of cause order to the developers, back in April 2008 and were hopeful today that the LUC would render a ruling that satisfied North Shore residents who don’t want to see the expansion. DOC also hoped a ruling would send the message to KRC that people from all over the island do not want to see the resort expanded. “All we’re asking is to have developers prove why they should keep the land zoned urban when after 25 years they have done nothing with it,” said Tim Vandeveer, co-chair of Defend Oahu Coalition.
Supporters of the motion feel that if the land were reverted back to agriculture it would not ruin the project altogether, but would instead force the developer to change the size and scope of the expansion plan, sending a message to speculators that untimely and unsustainable development plans can indeed expire.
On April 8, 2010 the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of Keep the North Shore Country and the Sierra Club Hawaii, requesting a supplemental (EIS) for the expansion before construction begins. The ruling means that developer KRC must complete a new EIS before they can proceed with their plans of expanding the current resort.
Kuilima had been standing by the original ruling that no updated EIS would be necessary unless the project itself changes, regardless of how much the project’s surrounding environment changes. In ordering a new EIS, the court acknowledged that enviornmental changes in the area have occured in the quarter of a century since the original EIS was completed.
Chief Justice Ronald Moon said these factors make the project an “essentially different action” than the one considered 25 years ago.
Expansion opponents are feeling hopeful at this point, and intend to keep working to do what they can to preserve the “country” on the North Shore.