Turtle Bay developers propose $1.2 billion development of two hotels, 750 residential units

Jade Eckardt

The unveiling of the Turtle Bay master plan, called “Tomorrow’s Ahupua’a,” for the proposed development of the North Shore resort on Thursday was preceded by a sign waving rally held by opponents of the proposed large scale development. Soon after, both opponents and supporters of the master plan - which proposes two additional hotels with 625 units, 590 resort residential units and160 and community residential units - gathered at the resort for an open house held by Replay Resorts, the company overseeing ongoing management and a real estate development program for the resort.

Although the master plan has been scaled back twice - the original plan proposed five more hotels with 2,500 units, 910 resort residential units and just 90 community community residential units while the first revision in March proposed four hotels and 750 condo units - it is still considered “too much” for the opposition. Actively trying to stop further expansion of the resort are many North Shore residents and environmental groups Defend Oahu Oahu Coalition (DOC) and Keep the North Shore Country (KNSC).

The total cost for the project is estimated to be $1.2 billion.

The open house was inspired by the filing of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) preparation notice on August 23, which is now in a 30 day public review period. “We were not required to hold a public meeting but we wanted to talk to the community,” Drew Stotesbury of Replay Resorts said. He added that the company wants to provide “as much information as possible to people here tonight.”

The decision of the Supreme Court to order the developers to complete an SEIS was a result of a tireless effort by KNSC and the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club last year when they tried to reverse a 2006 decision by the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) that Kuilima Resort Company would not be required to produce an EIS for their 25-year-old plan to expand the Turtle Bay Resort. Both the Circuit Court and Intermediate Court of Appeals had 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 25 year old project design, no supplemental EIS would be required regardless of how much the project’s surrounding environment changes.

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 25 years since the last EIS was finished. Environmental changes that community members are concerned with include a high increase in traffic, 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.

But the environmental groups persisted, and on April 8, 2010 the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of Keep the North Shore Country and the Sierra Club Hawaii, requesting an SEIS for the expansion before resort expansion could begin.

So with the recent filing of the SEIS, opposing groups and residents are again paying close attention to the proceedings of the development.

Later during a presentation by the developers, Lee Sichter, who prepared the current SEIS as well as the first EIS in 1985, said they will do a traffic study of the area that will determine “where Turtle Bay visitors are coming from when they arrive, and where they are going when they leave.” A 2005 traffic study done for the developers estimated an increase of 2,050 additional cars per hour on Kamehameha Highway. Sichter said three additional traffic lights would be constructed in the area.

“A 2005 traffic study done for the developers estimated an increase of 2,050 additional cars per hour on Kamehameha Highway.”

Archaeological studies will also continue. Discussing the work that archaeologist Alan Haun, who also worked on the project in the mid-1980s, speaker Dawn Chang said they have imposed shoreline setback “more than we need to” since burials and cultural sights are likely near the shore. “He (Haun) will be clearing vegetation and trenching during the archaeology study. When you see that, it’s not construction, it’s the study,” she advised residents. Trenching is an excavation method used by archaeologists to search for material and physical remains. Trenches are dug, often in a grid pattern in select areas and are deeper than they are wide in order for different layers of strata to be searched.

But the method also has the disadvantage of only revealing small slices of the whole volume. According to Haun, the past archaeological studies for the result revealed 25 individuals, three who remain “in place at Kahuku Point” while the others have been relocated. He said they’ve found deposits dating back to the 1400s, and back nearly 1,000 years ago.

According to Sichter’s report, Turtle Bay Resort (TBR) and related companies are the current owners of approximately 1,300 acres of land between Kawela Bay and Kahuku point, both above and below Kamehameha Highway.

While the plan has numerous elements to it, some of the stand out features listed in the Turtle Bay Resort Environmental Assessment and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice include a “gathering place” that will include a “small collection of simple and authentic mismatched buildings pulling from the kamaaina architectural heritage of the island.”

It will include local shops and restaurants, a day care facility for resort employees, lawns and a grove of trees. The report states that the built part of the gathering place will include less than 40,000 square feet of indoor space, primarily in single story buildings. A raised lanai and porches linking the buildings as well as a sports club will be also be constructed. According to the report, all buildings will be set back at least 100 feet from the certified shoreline.

The Turtle Bay Park will be home to the outlet of the “rerouted Kawela Stream,” and will feature a “small amphitheater and stage.” Concerts, public performances, and other presentations are expected to take place in the amhpitheater. A Farmers Market will also be located near the park. According to the report, “Between events the farmer’s market will include a small number of permanent market stands.”

According to Sichter, to improve traffic flow a second entrance from Kamehameha Highway will be installed approximately 4,200 feet west of Kuilima Drive, the current access to the resort. Also, a two lane privately owned and maintained driveway called Kaihalulu Drive will run parallel with the shoreline to Kaihalulu Beach before heading inland and connecting Marconi Road. Marconi Road, currently a dirt road, will be widened to two paved lanes and will be a secondary resort entrance with an “improved intersection” at Kamehameha Highway.

Changing will also be made to Turtle Bay’s popular 18-hole Fazio Golf Course which will be reduced to a nine hole course.  A new Golf Clubhouse is proposed for a site of three acres next to the current 18th hole of the Palmer Golf Course, which will remain unchanged.

In the report, Sichter wrote: If TBR were to proceed with development of the SEIS lands maximizing development to the extent allowed under current land use entitlements and approvals, TBR would be permitted to construct five new hotels including 2,500 units along with 1,000 new condominium units on the lands. TBR says it is responding to community sensitivities and concerns, and reflecting its own preference for a development plan sensitive to its physical environment. This “reduced density alternative” is the applicant’s (TBR) preferred alternative and the proposed action.

According to the report, the current plan proposes a reduction in “density” from the original plan of 60 percent.

While looking closely of one of many renderings of the plan, a North Shore resident in a green “Keep the Country Country” t-shirt said, “This plan may be a little smaller than the original one, but it’s still huge and will drastically change what we have out here. What they want to do isn’t keeping the country country.”