Honolulu officials told Waimanalo residents at a neighborhood board meeting Monday evening that they had reached an agreement with two Hawaiian leaders that would allow construction of a controversial park to go forward.
The announcement came after a 114-day standoff where park opponents, most of them Hawaiians, held vigil on the site to block the entry of construction equipment.
The redeveloped park, located at what is known as Sherwood Forest, will now have a cultural and historic focus and contain markers explaining that the area was a burial ground and one of the earliest-recorded arrival points for the original Polynesian voyagers who came to Hawaii.
Since April, Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been at loggerheads with large numbers of residents who opposed construction of the first phase of the park, a $1.43 million ballfield with parking — the first installment of what was to be a $32 million master-planned regional ballfield complex with up to 470 parking stalls.
The site is a national historic landmark.
Many residents first learned of the project when construction equipment arrived at the popular rustic coastal forest park and began ripping out trees and digging deep holes.
The new negotiated plan, as tentatively described by Roy Amemiya, the city’s managing director, involves converting Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, as it’s officially known, into a cultural and historic park. He said he envisioned ritual games to celebrate the makahiki season and hula performances on the site.
But Amemiya also described the park as having a field of some kind, parking suitable for school buses and an irrigation system to maintain green grass on the site — the same features that many opponents have previously singled out for criticism.
He said the mayor was proposing two City Council resolutions regarding the project, with one nullifying the $32 million park master plan but permitting phase one to proceed, and a second that would give the site a new name: Hunananiho Park, to underscore its historic Hawaiian association.
The city’s new plan drew applause from many in the audience but others criticized the deal as a sellout, negotiated secretly.
They questioned why an irrigation system was needed when the area was becoming reforested naturally, why parking for buses was needed and why the city had failed to make improvements to nearby damaged ballfields instead of building new ones.
A football coach, who questioned why the meetings were held secretly, said he wanted to participate in the talks because he still wants a regional ballfield complex there and believes it is needed.
The compromise was negotiated by Caldwell and his staff in a series of five private meetings with Hawaiian activists Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo and Kalani Kalima. The opposing sides were brought to the table by officers of the Honolulu Police Department, who urged them to seek reconciliation.
“It may not be what we wanted to hear,” Kamakea-Ohelo said, but added that the resolution nullifying the master plan would protect the park in perpetuity.
His comments drew widespread applause but so did the views of people who continue to oppose the city’s plan.
Kawahine Kamakea-Ohelo, the mother of one of the two negotiators, acknowledged that some people criticized the negotiation but that only a handful of families, including hers, had put themselves on the line there in protest for many long months.
She said a lawsuit filed by opponents to block the project had an uncertain future in the courts and that negotiation with the city had been essential to achieve a better, faster outcome.
“We have an opportunity,” she said. “We have to go forward.”
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.