Several weeks back, Honolulu City Council member Ikaika Anderson and his Zoning and Planning Committee threw a wrench into the Mormon Church’s plan to urbanize the Windward ahupuaa of Malaekahana.
Voting as one, Anderson, Carol Fukunaga, Ann Kobayashi, Joey Monahan and Trevor Ozawa approved Anderson’s amendments to the Koolauloa Sustainable Communities Plan, amendments that removed from the legal document the allowance for “Envision Laie,” an ambitious plan laid out by the church and its development arm, Hawaii Reserves Inc., to double the size of Laie northward into 900 agriculturally zoned acres it owns next door in Malaekahana.
The committee’s move against the church’s development scheme is good news for most people, who want to keep the country country — and good news for good old two-lane Kam Highway itself, with its string of roadside settlements, each more delicate and beautiful than the one before.
Urbanizing the scenic pasturelands and hills of the Malaekahana ahupuaa would seriously diminish rural Oahu’s distinctiveness.
But the story of how the Envision Laie plans got into the KSCP in the first place reveals how the game is played in the giant casino that is land use policy in Hawaii.
An important visual buffer between Laie town and Kahuku, the green pasturelands and rolling hills of the Malaekahana ahupuaa are a prime indicator that Oahu’s North Shore is, indeed, the country. Malaekahana’s wild makai section, a massive, heavily forested sand dune embracing the churning waters of Malaekahana Bay, formerly a colony of beach houses, has been managed as a low-key state park since 1979.
Urbanizing Malaekahana would seriously diminish rural Oahu’s distinctiveness in order to guarantee short-term gains for a single private party gambling that it will get the new zoning it wants.
The church, which assembled the ranching properties between 2003 and 2007 during Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s tenure, wants to build houses, offices and shopping centers there, and its wish — in the form of an expansion of the community growth boundary — was inserted into the draft KSCP document by Hannemann appointee David Tanoue, director of the city’s Department of Permitting and Planning, in 2010, just as Hannemann was abandoning Honolulu Hale to run for governor.
Tanoue inserted the enabling language after the KCSP had been drafted and submitted to the DPP by the DPP’s own citizen’s advisory committee whose 27 members, all community leaders, were personally invited to participate in the planning by Tanoue predecessor Henry Eng. The result of nearly two years of community meetings, the final document made no allowance for the Envision Laie project, and it called for a “special planning area” that could be used to block Turtle Bay’s 25-year-old plans to build five new hotels and myriad condos on its 850 acres of oceanfront land (Tanoue also removed the committee’s language regarding Turtle Bay from the draft KSCP).
His unilateral actions were controversial and rightly stoked outrage and cynicism among Windward and North Shore neighborhood activists.
‘It Needed to be Fought Over and Vetted’
“It was jaw-dropping for all of us,” longtime community leader Creighton Mattoon of Punaluu told me four years ago. “The DPP and the developers at Laie and Turtle Bay produced this without the knowledge of our committee, OK?”
Tanoue offers no apology. “It was my decision to put the Envision Laie project in the plan,” he said recently in an email response to questions.
“It was such an important/controversial policy issue for the island that it needed to be fought over and vetted,” he explained. “It’s easier to take something out of the plan than it is to add something as huge as this later.”
Tanoue noted that the community was split on the issue, and that by inserting the contentious project into the “tedious” review process early, both sides would be “prepared and present every step of the way.”
“I took a lot of heat for including Envision Laie in the draft plan,” he said, “but I feel it was the right thing to do.” Tanoue is now in a senior management position with local construction firm R.M. Towill.
Council member Anderson told me he’s been thinking about the Malaekahana issue for about five years.
“I visited the site twice,” he said in a phone interview, “once on horseback, and I came to the conclusion that any type of development in that area is simply not right, so I couldn’t go along with it.”
But he also dismissed the huhu that Tanoue’s actions stirred.
“It was an administrative DPP process,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the City Council. Let’s say the DPP didn’t write in Envision Laie. There’s nothing to prevent Hawaii Reserves from coming to the City Council and asking us to put it in. There are a number of ways they can still try. Or, the Zoning Committee could’ve overruled me if they’d wanted to. I’ve seen it happen.
“But they didn’t.”
Traffic is usually heavy on the two-lane Kamehameha Highway near Laie.
When asked about it, Anderson agreed that two-lane Kam Highway limits intensive development all along the North Shore and Windward Side from Haleiwa to Kahaluu. Furthermore, he added, “I don’t believe the highway can be widened. Geographically, I don’t believe it’s possible.”
Meanwhile, Council Chair Ernie Martin, whose sprawling District 2 includes most of the northern half of Oahu, has said he will hold off on a full Council vote on adopting the amended KSCP until the DPP’s proposed revisions to the Oahu General Plan are taken up by the Council, as early as this fall.
Then we’ll know if the years’ worth of promises and plans from city officials, developers and construction unions about steering urban growth on Oahu to the west and central parts of the island — and leaving the north and east sides alone — was a pack of lies or not.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Journalist Curt Sanburn has written about Hawaii affairs for over 20 years. Raised in Honolulu, the Iolani School grad ('73) lives near Land's End in San Francisco but returns to his home state frequently.