The environmental group and state senator, who is also a farmer, both oppose the Hoopili development, which involves the reclassification of 1,500 acres of prime agricultural land for urban use. They will join Friends of Makakilo in arguing against the development in front of the quasi-judicial state Land Use Commission.
Hearings begin October 20.
Friday’s hearing, which dragged on for nearly five hours, was “exhausting,” said Dan Davidson, executive director of the commission. It began with public testimony. One labor group after another testified against allowing the Sierra Club and Hee to intervene in proceedings.
UPDATED “Our concern is any potential delay of the decision process by this commission,” said Al Lardizabal1, a coordinator for the Hawaii Laborers Union. “We have over 650 unemployed men in the union – some of them for more than a year. There are delays and delays and delays in investments in projects.”
He noted that President Barack Obama and other political leaders have been urging creating more jobs. “Any delay in job creation is unfortunate,” Lardizabal said.
Union leaders and members crowded the hearing room in downtown Honolulu – and the street outside – sporting pro-Hoopili shirts, signs and buttons. Executives of D.R. Horton, the project developer, say that the development will create thousands of jobs.
The hearing also attracted Hoopili opponents wearing their own T-shirts, reading “Save Oahu Farmlands.”
The land for the proposed project is currently being farmed by Alec and Mike Sou, owners of Aloun Farms, whose lease is up at the end of 2013.
Other objections have included the loss of open space, increased traffic, strains on groundwater and the additional tax resources needed for infrastructure, including support of schools, police and fire departments.
The Sierra Club and Hee, through his attorney, argued that standards for intervention were very liberal. The state commissioners ultimately concurred.
While granting the Sierra Club’s petition to intervene wasn’t such a surprise, Hee’s position was more contentious. The city Department of Planning and Permitting argued that his intervention was unconstitutional and violated Hawaii’s separation of powers doctrine.
The city argued that it was not appropriate for a senator to draft laws, participate in the approval of land use commissioners and then “implement or interpret laws that he helped draft.”
Midway through the hearing, Hee indicated that he would only intervene as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a senator in order to avoid any conflict.
Hee told Civil Beat that he expects to be able to examine witnesses and that his motivation for intervening was to preserve valuable agricultural land.
“Hoopili is such a unique case because it is prime ‘ag’ land that is being profitably farmed for local consumption and supports 180 long-term jobs,” said Hee. “In our state more than 90 percent of food is imported. What should be happening in Hawaii is just the opposite.”
He said that the islands were clearly able to sustain themselves and that the land in question is not “vacant, fallow, rubbish land.”
D.R. Horton has argued that it plans to have community gardens and make room for gardens in the yards of houses, and that there is plenty of other prime agricultural land throughout the state.
UPDATED This is the second time the developer is going before the land use commission. In 2009, in a 5-3 vote, the commission denied its application based on a lack of phasing information detailing the timeline of development.3
Cameron Nekota, a Horton vice president in charge of Hoopili, told Civil Beat that he did not expect the intervention to further delay the project since the commission has a statutory requirement to rule on the case within a year.
He also noted that three neighborhood boards – Ewa, Kapolei and Waipahu — voted unanimously in favor of the project, a strong indication of the project’s support.
“It’s just kind of a humbling experience and really validates the plan for us,” said Nekota.
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