Editor’s Note:Joe Rubin and Sophie Cocke explore the issues surrounding the Kahuku sugar plantation in this investigative video.
Residents of an old sugar mill plantation on Oahu’s North Shore have been waiting to take over ownership of the homes and land they’ve lived on for years.
But the Florida developer has doubled the price, dashing hopes for many residents who are low-income descendants of plantation workers. The company has also told dozens of residents they are being evicted or have to move.
In 2006, Continental Pacific of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, bought the property from the Campbell Estate, which was in the midst of being dissolved. According to documents, the company promised to sell the approximately 70 lots to the tenants at below market prices in exchange for support from the city and community to build 18 luxury beachfront homes.
But now, plans for the high-end homes have been derailed and Continental Pacific has doubled the lot price. And some residents say that while the price is still below market value, their chance of actually being able to purchase the homes that they have lived in for years, and in some cases generations, is being squashed.
Residents of 25 lots have been told by Continental Pacific that they have to move their homes out of a floodplain at their own expense, documents show. The company said that it will provide them with new lots that they can later purchase, but some tenants told Civil Beat that they can’t afford the move.
Another 16 residents have been sent eviction notices, according to Tony Locricchio, an attorney who is helping residents fight the evictions in court.
Eviction notices reviewed by Civil Beat don’t provide a reason for the action.
Lex Smith, an attorney for Continental Pacific, said that it’s company policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.
Continental Pacific says that it is still committed to keeping the character of the old plantation town and selling the lots to tenants.
“Continental Pacific’s main goal has been and continues to be providing ownership to village residents while simultaneously maintaining the character and integrity of the existing village culture,” the company says on its website.
Continental Pacific says in documents that plans for the luxury homes were scrapped after the city required it to do an expensive environmental impact statement. That meant it had to raise the prices because the original deal to sell the lots to tenants for $75,000 is no longer viable.
Continental Pacific now says it intends to offer the lots to residents for $150,000, though no official offer letter exists, before putting the lots on the open market.
However, in letters to tenants the company says the lots are valued at between $250,000 and $350,000.
That is causing residents to worry that the company is working to get them out of their homes so that Continental Pacific can fetch a higher price for the properties.
In April, the Honolulu City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the city to buy the land. Ernie Martin, chair of the Honolulu City Council, introduced the resolution as a way to ensure that low- and moderate-income residents with deep connections to the land are allowed to stay in their homes. Tenants have been month-to-month renters for years on the leasehold property. While some tenants own their homes, they don’t own the land underneath it.
The City Council’s resolution is meaningless unless the mayor acts on it. Mayor Peter Carlisle told Civil Beat that he has no intention to do so.
“This is an issue to be resolved primarily by the private land owner and the residents,” he said by email.
But Carlisle is leaving office in January and Kirk Caldwell will take over. Caldwell isn’t talking to Civil Beat about his intentions, but his campaign manager was Continental Pacific attorney Lex Smith.
Martin says he thinks the developer would like the city to take the property off its hands. It’s the price that might be the issue.
In a letter to residents last week from Smith, Continental Pacific suggested its price could be as much as $25 million.
That’s well above what the city is expecting to pay.