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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the Honolulu City Council voted on a bill to rezone the lot on May 27, but the vote actually occurred on June 5.
A developer’s plan to convert land zoned for preservation into an enclave of upscale homes has hit a wall of community opposition in Kaneohe, resulting in more constituent resentment against embattled Honolulu City Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson.
Kaui Pratt-Aquino, who has led the opposition to the project, said that neighbors fear construction there would increase the chances of flooding in the area, and that the rezoning would also set a bad precedent for the city by allowing land zoned for preservation to instead be turned into commercial or residential uses.
“We are not against development but we need to be smart about it,” she said.
The eight-unit development, proposed by Horseshoe Land Company, would be built on the periphery of a 1950s-era subdivision known as Puohala Village, an area just off Kaneohe Bay Drive that is already prone to flooding. The site itself includes the horseshoe-shaped path of Kaneohe Stream, as well as another disconnected loop that also contains flowing water. Both waterways are steeply eroded, with some drops in elevation of as much as 15 to 20 feet.
The battle has also flared into another dustup for Anderson, the area’s council representative. He has faced criticism from constituents in Waimanalo for his on-again, off-again support for a controversial ball field project at Sherwood Forest. A petition opposing the $1.4 million project has attracted 22,000 supporters.
Waimanalo residents have lined Kalanianaole Highway opposing the project, which some have blamed on Anderson. One protestor’s sign called Anderson a member of the House of Lannister, the villainous ruling family in the popular TV series, “Game of Thrones.”
Anderson sponsored the legislation that created the ball field park and backed the project. But as opposition grew, he changed his mind and asked Mayor Kirk Caldwell to halt it. Despite growing opposition, Caldwell has refused to do so.
Anderson similarly supported the Kaneohe rezoning when it was proposed to the council on May 27.
Anderson had received campaign contributions from the developer of the Puohala project. According to records from the State Campaign Spending Commission, Anderson received $3,000 in 2017 and 2018 from the owner of the parcel, Aaron Tampos.
“It made us pissed, pissed” to learn that Anderson had accepted campaign money from the landowner of the controversial land parcel, Pratt-Aquino said. “People were not happy about that.”
Anderson has reversed course on the Puohala project, much as he did on the Waimanalo project. He had expressed tepid support for the project by voting “aye with reservations” for the project when it came before the City Council for the first time on June 5.
In a telephone interview, Anderson said he frequently votes in support of bills when they are introduced so they can get a full hearing in committee, even when he suspects he will later vote against the measure.
“The community that elected me has asked me to oppose the rezone, which I will do,” he said.
He said he was not influenced by the campaign contributions and has told the developer he will oppose the project.
“My no vote will speak for itself,” he said.
Anderson said the developer believes that he has the right to go forward in seeking the rezoning because other recent land use plans have called for building more infill housing, particularly in the Kaneohe area, to help address the need for more housing.
“The developer has a valid argument to make about building homes on that property,” he said.
The developer’s representative, Keith Kurahashi of R. M. Towill Corp., did not respond to a request for comment.
In a lengthy response to neighbors’ concerns about the project, Kurahashi wrote that the property owner plans to address potential problems with flowing water on the property by building bridges with pedestrian railings and leaving some of the area as open space. The property owners would employ a firm to do periodic clearing of the stream to ensure proper drainage. Homeowners would handle this issue through a homeowner’s association, he wrote.
He noted that the project site had been designated for low-density residential under the Koolau Poko Sustainable Communities Plan, which was approved by the council in 2017.
On the first hearing of the bill at the city council, Honolulu Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who represents the Leeward Coast and is running for mayor, cast the only no vote.
“It was the right thing to do,” she said in an email. “The county has not re-zoned County preservation land for development since 2007 and the Neighborhood Board opposed this action. Area residents reached out to our office opposing Bill 27’s proposal to build residential structures on preservation land in the stream bed on Puohala Street. I voted with the community.”
At a Kaneohe board meeting in late June, Anderson pledged that he would vote against the project when it comes up before the board again.
Pratt-Aquino, an attorney, asked him to put his statement of opposition in writing, drawing gasps of surprise from the board and audience.
“I was kind of surprised, (thinking) don’t you believe him?” said Deb Collins, who serves on the neighborhood board.
Anderson asked whether he could send the letter to Neighborhood Board Chairman Maurice “Mo” Radke, which he subsequently did.
At the time the area was developed in the 1940s and 1950s, the Kaneohe Outdoor Circle, a civic group, was deployed to plant hala and coconut trees and flowering bushes throughout the subdivision.
Kaneohe is known for its dense rainfall, which has made it historically one of the richest agricultural areas on Oahu, but also makes it particularly prone to flooding.
The property’s owner bought the parcel, which is located at the dead-end of Puohala Street, about a decade ago at a reported price of $145,000. Over the years, he has sought to find ways to use the land despite the preservation zoning, which has limited the kinds of development allowed at the site
He initially proposed using the site as a cemetery, an idea that faltered amid community opposition, and then proposed the housing development.
After reviewing the current proposal, the city Department of Planning and Permitting recommended limiting development on the site to four houses to be able to handle drainage problems and erosion.
But the Honolulu Planning Commission saw no reason for concern, voting 5-0 in support of the project. On May 1, the five commissioners, who include a former city official, two union officials and two real estate and construction executives, accepted the plan as proposed by the developer.
The developer has subsequently sought, and obtained, a 180-day extension to consider options at the site. The City Council would need to approve the rezoning.
Collins, of the neighborhood board, said she was pleased that Anderson had decided to oppose the Puohala project.
“I really applaud him for taking our community’s opinion into consideration,” she said. She thinks the public dispute over the Waimanalo project could have had some effect.
“Recently he took a beating over Sherwood Forest,” she said. “Maybe that softened him to listening to his constituents instead of developers.”
Pratt-Aquino said that opponents of the Waimanalo and Kaneohe projects view themselves as facing similar problems from officials in Honolulu.
“The message across this district is we don’t think our interests are being represented,” she said.
Anderson, long viewed as a rising star in city politics, recently announced he would not pursue a run for mayor, citing family concerns. He can’t run again for the council again because of term limits.
He said he did not take personally the dispute in Waimanalo or Kaneohe or what had been said about him, believing that in time the disagreements would fade.
“I developed a very thick skin over the years,” he said.
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