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A recent rash of resignations from state boards prompted by a new financial disclosure law has Gov. Neil Abercrombie scrambling to make replacements. But no board has been hit harder than the Land Use Commission, which can’t even conduct business, leaving developers and other petitioners hanging.
“We haven’t been able to do anything,” said Daniel Orodenker, the commission’s executive director. “We are waiting to get our numbers back up so we can start rolling again.”
The commission, which is in charge of classifying land for development throughout the state, has nine seats. It needs five members for a quorum and requires six to vote on district boundary amendments.
Five commissioners — Lance Inouye, Ernest Matsumura, Dennis Esaki, Sheldon Biga and Carol Torigoe — quit at the beginning of July, along with a slew of other board members around the state who were concerned about their financial information becoming public.
Two more Land Use Commission members, former Chairman Ronald Heller and Kyle Chock, left because their terms expired June 30.
That left the board with just three commissioners: Vice-Chairman Chad McDonald and recently confirmed Aaron Mahi, as well as Edmond Aczun who started his term on July 1.
Abercrombie appointed a fourth member, Jonathan Scheuer, on July 16, but the board still can’t operate.
That means all of the commission’s pending dockets are on hold, including Defend Oahu Coalition’s motion to require Turtle Bay Resort to justify its urban classification for its North Shore land where it plans to build two hotels. The motion is one of several ways the organization has tried to stop the expansion for several years, arguing that it would ruin the rural character of the area.
Tim Vandeveer from Defend Oahu Coalition said the group is still pursuing its case before the commission despite Turtle Bay Resort’s recent agreement with the state to scale back its development plan and preserve 665 acres of land.
“I’m not sure that the resignations affect us too much because we’ve waited nearly eight years to get some sort of resolution on our motion,” Vandeveer said.
The group originally filed the same motion back in 2008. “I suppose it does frustrate our chances, once again,” he said.
The resort is currently still planning to move forward with the hotels, and is planning to begin construction in about two years despite ongoing legal challenges.
Kamehameha Schools, a charitable trust and the state’s biggest private landowner, is also waiting for approval for a motion to amend a 1988 decision urbanizing land in Ewa. The trust wants its name to be added to the decision as a successor petitioner and for the commission to explicitly state that the property can be used for solar farm development.
The commission had considered placing the item on August’s meeting agenda, but now it’s unlikely that the meeting will take place.
Despite that, Kamehameha Schools spokesman Kekoa Paulsen said the trust isn’t feeling a big impact.
“We understand what the situation is and we’ll see how that works out,” Paulsen said.
Other business pending before the commission includes a district boundary amendment application by Kaonoulu Ranch for a new commercial and residential complex on Maui known as Piilani Development. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Justin Fujioka, Abercrombie’s spokesman, said filling vacancies on state boards is a top priority for the governor.
“The Governor is close to appointing new members, as applications for all of the state’s boards and commissions continue to be reviewed and processed,” he said in an email.
In the meantime, the commission’s staff has continued to assist people in putting their petitions together, Orodenker said.
No one has been submitting anything recently, however. “They know we can’t do anything,” he said.