Land Use Commission keeps Ho‘opili development plans alive

HONOLULU—Dozens of labor advocates, environmentalists, and Oahu small farmers crowded into today’s Land Use Commission (LUC) meeting regarding D.R. Horton’s proposed Hoopili development in Ewa. At stake was the future of the development, which now remains intact by unanimous vote of the commission. The proposal seeks to rezone what is currently 1,600 acres of agricultural land into urban use land. Not all of the land at issue is currently being farmed.

The purpose of the hearing was not to determine the fate of the proposed Hoopili project, but rather to ensure that provisions in the State Constitution regarding agricultural land are followed properly. The developer, D.R. Horton, sought to resubmit its petition for the project, which has twice been rejected by the LUC. The developer had filed a motion to allow for the acceptance of an amended proposal, and another motion to find deficiencies in previous proposals “cured.”

A motion filed by the Friends of Makakilo, represented by Dr. Kioni Dudley, to prevent the land in question from being rezoned for 50 years was withdrawn because, apparently, Dudley was unprepared to make an argument. Attorney Benjamin Kudo, on behalf of the developer, made the point that the issue at hand was purely procedural, and the perceived merits of the project were not at issue.

Although the LUC hearing pertained strictly to procedural, bureaucratic concerns regarding the project, those in support and opposition to the project turned up to speak on its merits, or lack thereof.

State Sen. Clayton Hee, clearly well aware of the procedure by which the project will or will not be green-lighted by the LUC, testified to the fact that the plans submitted do not provide for the fact that Honolulu’s proposed rail project may not, in fact, come to pass.

After fumbling with the provided microphone, Hee joked to the commission members, “You make me nervous.”

LUC Chair Vladimir Devens responded, “You make me nervous, too.”

There was heartfelt testimony from the public at the hearing, on both sides of the issue. Kika Bukoski of the Hawaii Building Construction Trades Council recognized deficiencies in D.R. Horton’s proposal, and asked that the commission provide the developer a chance to fix its petition.

Those in opposition to the Hoopili project cited the Hawaii Constitution regarding the preservation of agricultural lands, and ambiguity surrounding the finances of those behind the project. Makakilo resident Victoria Cannon testified about “spurious issues” regarding the petitioner’s Standard & Poor rating.

Donna Wong, executive director of Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, testified that the land in question is more valuable as agricultural land than as urban land. Choon James of Laie testified that the commission should “comb through this motion with an uku comb.”

Anthony Andrews of the Sierra Club testified that requests for documents regarding water and traffic issues had not been granted. Kudo responded by stating that those requests are in the process of being honored by the developer.

Perhaps the most salient analysis of the issue was given by North Shore farmer Meleana Judd, who said: “It’s a shame that it comes down to jobs versus agriculture. Agriculture means jobs.”

Before a recess, the LUC voted unanimously to accept the developer’s revised petition, and to find its amended petition “cured” of concerns raised by the LUC. A labor representative was heard to say, when a friend suggested that they take a seat, “I don’t get paid if I sit down.”

Today was certainly a victory for the Hoopili developer, as the LUC now has the procedural authority to consider its petition for rezoning agricultural land in Ewa to urban use and has accepted the developer’s revised petition as “cured.”

The issue of whether or not the Hoopili project is approved by the LUC is, as yet, unresolved.