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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Preservationist groups get a victory in Irwin Park court case

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

Five organizations hoping to prevent further development of downtown Honolulu's Irwin Park won a round in that preservation battle yesterday in Circuit Court.

Judge Gary Chang granted legal standing to Scenic Hawai'i, the Outdoor Circle, Historic Hawai'i Foundation, Hawai'i's Thousand Friends and Life of the Land to fight the state-backed Aloha Tower Development Corporation's recent legal attempt to remove development restrictions on the waterfront park.

In 1930, Helen Irwin Fagan donated about half an acre to the Territory of Hawai'i in memory of her father, William Irwin, with the requirement that the land either be used as a park or returned to her family. Historic monkeypod and banyan trees have flourished at the park, which also includes 118 parking stalls used by the neighboring Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Attorney Andrew Beaman represents Aloha Tower Development Corp., the state agency that oversees development of the Honolulu waterfront and has struggled to add parking to make the Aloha Tower more accessible to tourists and shoppers.

Beaman said his client believes that Fagan waived her right to any restrictions on the use of the property in 1952 in granting permission to the Territory of Hawai'i to build Nimitz Highway.

Attorney John Hoshibata, who represents the five groups, disputes that, saying it's unclear exactly what Fagan was referring to in 1952 and questioning why the state would wait fifty years to make that argument in court. The parties are expected back in court July 2.

Although allowing the five organizations to take part, Chang said that he does not have any inclination on how he will rule later on the broader issues.

In July, the court also will decide if the city should be given legal standing in the Irwin Park dispute. Deputy Corporation Counsel David Tanoue said the city is interested in preserving the downtown green space.

Through a spokeswoman, Mayor Jeremy Harris pointed out that that the Aloha Tower agency's own study recommends park use at the site.

"I am 100 percent committed to protecting and preserving the park and not allowing it to be taken over by a parking lot," Harris said.

In court, Hoshibata said the organizations believe there is a strong public interest in preventing Aloha Tower from building a parking structure at the park as outlined in an earlier plan.

"This is not a pie-in-the-sky possibility," he said. "This is a very real possibility."

Mary Steiner, chief executive officer of the Outdoor Circle said the organization has received a great deal of feedback on their effort to preserve the park.

"I think this is a big issue that the public is behind," she said.