The fight over building more hotels at Turtle Bay Resort is far from over.
Hawaii’s Land Use Commission voted Friday to wait until next year before making a decision about whether the upscale resort on Oahu’s North Shore should keep its urban land classification for more than 200 acres or go through a process of justifying its plan for the land.
The decision to make no decision tacks on at least another six months to a struggle over developing land in the rural area that has gone on for more than five years.
The commission met Friday to consider a motion by Defend Oahu Coalition, a community group that wants to slow development on the North Shore. The organization asked the commission to force the resort owners to prove that the area should be set aside for urban uses rather than farmland.
Commission members decided that they would hold off on making any decisions about the property until after the next legislative session because of the potential for future litigation and new legislation.
Because the city just accepted Turtle Bay’s most recent environmental impact statement in October, community members have until late December to sue the resort if they think the report is inadequate.
Both the Defend Oahu Coalition and the Sierra Club are considering litigation, along with a group called Keep the North Shore Country, which has already retained lawyers to determine the organization’s legal options.
Commission members also said they want to postpone deciding on the issue because of a legislative resolution about Turtle Bay that was approved last spring.
The governor’s spokeswoman said the working group has held informal discussions with stakeholders and is planning a formal meeting to present its findings. The group is required to present an action plan to the Legislature by the end of this month.
Drew Stotesbury, CEO of Turtle Bay Resort, said he wishes the commission had denied the motion but understands the members’ reasoning. Although the delay casts uncertainty over the hotel’s plans to expand, Stotesbury said, “It doesn’t affect anything we need to do in the short term.”
Tim Vandeveer, co-chairman of Defend Oahu Coalition, said he’s disappointed that the commission didn’t vote in favor of the community group. “Instead they continued to punt and I guess hide behind potential litigation and the political process,” he said.
Friday’s meeting is the latest chapter in a long fight over North Shore development. The Land Use Commission originally approved a plan to build five hotels in 1985. But the project was delayed and the property has since changed hands four times.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in April that the resort needed to conduct a new environmental impact statement. The developer scaled down the project significantly, proposing just two hotels and one building for condos or time-shares.
Advocates for the proposal say it will add jobs and housing to the rural area. They say the new owners have listened to the community by holding more than 200 meetings with residents and spending more than $37 million in the last two years on improving the 858-acre resort.
But critics worry about the environmental impact of developing one of the most prized rural areas on Oahu. They say that the property’s owners never fulfilled the original vision for the land and more than 30 years later, the plan should be reevaluated.
Defend Oahu Coalition initially tried to force Turtle Bay Resort to justify its urban land designation in 2008. The Land Use Commission held several hearings between 2008 and 2010 on the issue but never came to a decision. The motion considered Friday is the same request renewed.
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