In 2010, Scott Wallace bought almost 7 acres of agricultural land in Haleiwa intending to convert it to homes.
Almost seven years later, the fate of his rezoning request from agricultural to urban or residential rests with the Honolulu City Council. Council members are scheduled to vote Wednesday on the first reading of two bills, Bill 55 and Bill 56, to rezone the land.
Some North Shore residents oppose the proposed development, arguing it would shrink agricultural land while increasing traffic in an already congested area. It’s also opposed by the Honolulu Planning Commission.
“The community as a whole doesn’t want this project,” said North Shore Neighborhood Board member Thomas Shirai. The board passed a resolution in October opposing the effort to rezone the land.
In March, the Planning Commission, a nine-member advisory board, recommended that the City Council reject the proposal. As a result, the proposal would need a supermajority of six council votes to pass.
The developer wants to divide the land into 29 lots and sell each for an estimated price of $175,000 to $200,000. The average size of the lots would be 5,500 to 6,000 square feet. The zone change would allow for up to 35 homes.
“What this project is all about is working class housing,” said Wallace, who also owns the nearby Haleiwa Plantation Shop and runs Wallace Theater Management Corp.
City law requires that 30 percent of lots be made affordable to people earning not more than 140 percent of area median income, which was $98,560 for an individual in 2016. Ten percent of the lots must be made available to people earning 80 percent or less of AMI, which was $56,320 or less for an individual in 2016.
The developer said he would allow residents of Kilioe Street, the lone road that runs through the adjourning residential neighborhood of about 17 houses, the first chance to purchase the properties.
Two years ago, Wallace said, Kilioe Street residents had the opportunity to fill out a card indicating their interest in purchasing the land.
“Almost half of the people on that street were interested,” he said. “When it goes to market they’ll be the first told, so they can come purchase first if they so desire.”
“If you allow this type of development you’re setting a really dangerous precedent,” said North Shore resident Malia Evans. “Others will come in and scoop up more ag land for development.”
Shirai, the neighborhood board member, compared the project to the Hoopili development, which is turning nearly 1,300 acres of agricultural land into a planned 11,750-home development in West Oahu.
Wallace said his land is unfit for farming. A study of the soil found it had too much clay, he said.
Some residents disagree. Evans, an anthropologist who studies traditional land use in Hawaii, said the land is ideal for farming taro.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s online soil survey classifies Wallace’s land and surrounding properties as “prime farmland if irrigated.”
Shirai said Haleiwa residents have been on alert about attempts to convert agricultural land to other uses since nearby landowner Kamehameha Schools announced plans to build homes on agricultural land.
“We need to keep as much ag land as we can,” said Bob Justice, another neighborhood board member.
City Councilman Ernie Martin, who represents the North Shore, did not respond to a request for comment about the proposal.
He’s one of seven council members who has received campaign donations from Wallace. In the last 10 years, the movie theater executive has donated more than $55,000 to the candidates in Hawaii, according to data from the state Campaign Spending Commission.
About $33,000 of Wallace’s donations went to current City Council members. Martin received the most, $5,000 since 2006.
Civil Beat reached out to each of the council members who have received more than $1,000 from Wallace in the last 10 years.
Council members Ikaika Anderson, Ron Menor, Trevor Ozawa and Kymberly Pine did not respond to requests for comments.
Brandon Elefante said he plans to file a disclosure of interest statement for these bills, and said he plans to consult the city’s ethics commission for guidance.
Elefante said he doesn’t foresee this situation calling for a recusal because campaign contributions are lawful and he has no direct financial stake in the property’s development.
“I never look at who donates to me,” said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. “It doesn’t effect me at all. I just go with what I think is right.”
Kobayashi said she would likely follow Martin’s lead on the Haleiwa proposal.
“I usually go with the council member from that district,” she said. “I really didn’t like Hoopili because that was really prime ag land, but the (council member from that district) was supporting it so I supported it with reservations.”
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