Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series exploring land ownership near Honolulu’s proposed 20-mile elevated rail line. The data for the series was produced for Civil Beat by Hawaii Information Service, a public records and real estate data firm.

UPDATED 10/14/11 12:01 a.m. CORRECTION:

This article has been updated to reflect the definition of land ownership used by Hawaii Information Service in determining which entities own land along the rail line. For the purposes of this report, land ownership is both fee simple and leasehold. An earlier version of this article gave the erroneous impression that all the land owners held fee simple title to their property. That is not the case. For example, Aloun Farms holds leases on its land. It does not own it outright. The error was brought to our attention by an astute reader.

This is the second time this article has been corrected. The first correction occurred because the original article omitted three of the top 25 fee simple or leasehold landowners — Aloun Farms, A M Enterprises LLC and Aloha Cargo Agency Services. That error occurred because we used an older version of the parcel map when determining land ownership within 2,500 feet of the rail line. The error was uncovered when we examined ownership near each station and discovered a landowner that should have been on the original list. It turned out that use of the old map meant that some 400 parcels didn’t match up with ownership data. The essential thrust of the original article — that a handful of owners controls about half the land — remains correct, however the tables and the text have been updated to reflect the latest data. Civil Beat regrets the errors.

A pair of homebuilders, a farm and a handful of government agencies hold fee simple or leasehold ownership of more than 40 percent of the land surrounding the proposed route for Honolulu’s 20-mile rail system, an analysis of real estate data shows.

Of the nearly 600 entities that own at least an acre within 2,500 feet of the route, Ohana Military Communities LLC and D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes are the two largest stakeholders. They’re followed by the City and County of Honolulu, the State of Hawaii, Aloun Farms, the state’s Department of Transportation-Airports Division and the federal government.

Owner1 Square Feet Acres
Ohana Military Communities LLC 45,955,984 1,055.0
D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes LLC 43,252,726 992.9
City & County Of Honolulu 38,463,602 883.0
State Of Hawaii 25,795,221 592.2
Aloun Farms Inc 24,350,968 559.0
State Of Hawaii Dot Airports Div 24,020,691 551.4
United States Of America 18,803,950 431.7
Top 7 220,643,142 5,065.3
Total 530,554,704 12,180

Source: Hawaii Information Service

Ohana Military Communities is the local land ownership arm of Forest City, a national residential management company for the military that handles off-base housing for the Marines and Navy in Hawaii. Executives did not respond to requests for an interview about what rail means for the company.

D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes owns a huge parcel on the Ewa end of the rail line. The company is trying to develop more than 1,500 Leeward Oahu acres into a community called Hoopili that it hopes will one day contain nearly 12,000 homes, five new schools and enough retail space to provide 7,000 new local jobs. Most, but not all, of Hoopili’s 1,550 acres are within 2,500 feet of the rail line and were covered by Civil Beat’s analysis.

“We call ourselves a transit-ready project. We’re planning for it, but that’s not to say that our project doesn’t work without rail,” said Vice President Cameron Nekota when asked what the train means to Hoopili and his company. Even if rail doesn’t happen, the community can work with buses. But D.R. Horton is rooting for rail to happen.

“It certainly is an enhancement to not just our community but the whole area if it does go through. We certainly see the value that rail gives to the whole community,” Nekota said.

And then there’s Aloun Farms, a diversified agriculture operation that grows much of Hawaii’s local produce. A chunk of the farm is on leased land that could one day be part of Hoopili, and Aloun Farms also leases other land along the route.

Governments Hold Big Stake

While the developers own the top two spots, various governments will be impacted by the project. If the airports and harbors divisions, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the University of Hawaii and the Board of Land and Natural Resources were rolled up into the State of Hawaii’s tally, it would rank first with nearly 1,400 acres.

The airport is one of the state government’s major assets and now finds itself in the shadow of the train due to a late route change to have the two forms of transportation work hand in hand. Other government-held properties include Ala Moana Park and government buildings like the state Capitol and Honolulu Hale in downtown.

But close proximity to those government properties isn’t always a good thing. Hawaii-based judges complained that the train could pose a security risk because it came too close to the courthouse, forcing a lawsuit against the project to be heard by a mainland judge without that conflict of interest.

Of those 12,180 acres within 2,500 feet of the proposed rail route, about a half are controlled by the 25 largest landowners. (The 12,180 total includes roads and even some of the water in Pearl Harbor, so the percentage of all available parcels held by the 25 largest landowners is even larger.) Each controls at least 25 acres near the rail line, and the list includes a who’s who of major players.

Owner2 Square Feet Acres
B P Bishop Est Trs 5,066,267 116.3
University Of Hawaii 4,666,793 107.1
Hawaiian Electric Co Inc 4,082,857 93.7
Hawaiian Home Lands 3,771,635 86.6
Hawaii Housing Finance & Dev Corp 3,145,179 72.2
Ggp Ala Moana Llc 2,592,158 59.5
Department Of Hawaiian Home Lands 2,432,220 55.8
State Of Hawaii Dot Harbors Div 2,294,571 52.7
Sugarland Farms Inc 2,135,362 49.0
Bre/Pearlridge LLC 1,933,536 44.4
A M Enterprises LLC 1,844,311 42.3
Watercress Of Hawaii Inc 1,651,210 37.9
First Hawaiian Bank 1,570,158 36.0
Hawaii Comm Dev Authority 1,466,431 33.7
U S Postal Service 1,383,879 31.8
Aloha Cargo Agency Services 1,336,178 30.7
Hawaiian Golf Properties LLC 1,288,230 29.6
Wal-Mart 1,243,887 28.6
Top 25 264,548,004 6,073.2
Total 530,554,704 12,180

Source: Hawaii Information Service

Interestingly, the list includes First Hawaiian Bank, which has an executive (Don Horner) on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board. Bank of Hawaii isn’t among the top 25 and has less than half as much land near rail as its primary rival.

The list of large rail-adjacent landowners includes a mainland corporation (Wal-Mart), agricultural operations (Sugarland Farms and Watercress Of Hawaii) and utilities like the Post Office and Hawaiian Electric.

Proximity to the rail could be a financial boon to these landowners — but not necessarily.

Planners often estimate “walking distance” at half a mile, and a half-mile radius has been used on maps at transit-oriented development meetings held by the city. Transit-oriented development plans and adjustments to land use and zoning rules would encourage growth within walking distance of the 21 rail stations and would presumably increase the value of now-developable parcels.

At the same time, landowners close to the line but not particularly close to stations might have those effects mitigated or even have their property values go down due to noise and visual blight.

(Civil Beat will take a closer look at each of the rail stations and the adjacent landowners in subsequent installments of this series.)

Those financial benefits may have been a motivator to get landowners on board with the effort to promote rail at the ballot box — when steel-on-steel came to a vote in 2008 and when pro-rail mayoral candidates like Mufi Hannemann, Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell needed help getting elected. We’ll be examining the overlap between real estate data and campaign spending records, too.

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