Friday, February 2, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 2, 2001

Sandy Beach ruling should not be fought

Everything has its price, even our scenic views, as Honolulu’s taxpayers may soon find out.

A state judge ruled this week that the developers of a proposed housing project on land near Sandy Beach in East Honolulu are eligible for damages because their plans were stopped by the City Council.

It is a complicated story, one that teaches a lesson both about the zoning process and on the careful cost-benefit analysis that should go into any land-use decision.

In this case, Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna ruled that a 1989 zoning change approved by the City Council violated the due-process rights of landowner Bishop Estate and developer Maunalua Associates. Normally, a landowner would not have a right to damages for a zoning change unless all economic use of the property had been taken away.

But in this case, the Council moved to rezone the property after the landowner had obtained virtually all the zoning changes and permits needed to go ahead. The Council was responding politically to a ballot initiative in which voters strongly supported designating the property as preservation.

The Hawaii Supreme Court threw out that initiative on a technical basis, but the Council went ahead and "downzoned" the land to preservation.

It was a popular decision, and the right one for those interested in preserving as much open space as possible along what has become known as the Ka Iwi coastline.

But all things come at a price. A trial is set for July at which the amount of damages will be determined. This is not a simple thing, since while the land use was changed from residential to preservation, it is not axiomatic that all economic value was removed from the land.

If a reasonable value is set, the city should pay it rather than appeal the decision or fight this further. For more than a decade now, Honolulu’s residents have enjoyed the vistas that this zoning change has helped preserve. Those protections will go on in perpetuity.

That should be worth something.

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