By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer
HAWAI'I KAI — A developer is taking steps to build homes on 88 acres in the back of Kamilonui Valley — the last undeveloped valley in East Honolulu — where farmers grow vegetables, fruits and plants.
The plan by Stanford Carr Development — developer also of the new 1,000-home Hawaii Kai Peninsula project — comes at the same time that the city is reviewing the East Honolulu Sustainable Communities Plan. In that plan, the valley land is dedicated to farming.
According to a letter from Stanford Carr Development to all 17 farmers in the Kamilonui Valley Farmers Cooperative, landowner Kamehameha Schools has agreed to give the developer the "exclusive right to work on your behalf to apply for entitlements and to negotiate the fee simple purchase for the lots from Kamehameha Schools."
Kamehameha Schools is interested in working with the farmers as a group and not on a piecemeal basis, said Kekoa Paulsen, Kamehameha Schools spokesman.
If all the farmers want to seek new leases for their farms, Paulsen said, the land trust would support that. If the farmers all decide to sell their leasehold interest to a developer, or if the farmers all decide to stay on their leasehold farms until their leases expire, the land trust would support any of those choices, he said.
"We would support the farmers in their effort to continue farming," Paulsen said. "If all the farmers choose to go with Stanford Carr, we would support that. We're not pushing to get these farmers to move out."
The news reverberated through the community, which has been working with the city on the plan and on ways to preserve the land for farming. For the aging farmers, however, news that they might be able to walk away from their leasehold farms with money for retirement was welcomed.
Elizabeth Reilly, a founder of the Livable Hawai'i Kai Hui, said: "Kamilonui Valley is one of those rare pieces of land that needs to be protected, and we are fortunate to have Councilman Charles Djou, because he supports the community's desire to stop urban sprawl.
"This valley is extremely important to control sediment loss and other pollutants to the Hawai'i Kai Marina and coastal waters of Maunalua Bay."
Any change in zoning or in the urban growth boundary would require City Council approval, Djou said. That would mean numerous public hearings and readings before the city, the Planning Commission and the council, he said. No request for zoning changes has been submitted to the city for review, Djou said.
If there is a delay, the project would take an additional two years of planning.
"I like the area the way it is right now," Djou said. "I don't see any reason to change the sustainable-communities plan. I hear concerns from my constituents about traffic and infrastructure like water, sewer and roads. The developer will need to overcome all those issues and the buy-in from all the farmers."
The farmers are on 60-year leases with Kamehameha Schools and were moved to the valley by Henry J. Kaiser when he began developing his vision of Hawai'i Kai, said Stephany Sofos, who had worked with a development firm of Kaiser's in the early 1980s. She said that Kaiser's initial vision for Hawai'i Kai called for an independent city that balanced residential use with business, commercial and agriculture uses for about 100,000 residents, Sofos said.
"In his day, he would have literally moved mountains to get that goal — of a self-sustaining community — met," Sofos said. "But he always wanted a balance of open space, parks, residential and business."
Stanford Carr said there is a "critical need" for housing in Hawai'i Kai.
"I've been working on the farmers' behalf," Carr said. "It's up to the farmers at this point. I need a majority of the farmers to buy into this. It's taken me three years and about $100,000 to get to this point.
"I'm prepared to walk away if the farmers don't get together on this. I did my part at the request of the farmers. It's been an arduous process."
But Katsumi Higa, one of the original farmers of the valley, said the Stanford Carr Development letter to the farmers was just a restatement of what the developer has done on the farmers' behalf, and it doesn't give them the information they want: What would they get in terms of homes, cash or land if they turn over their lots to the developer?
Residents who oppose development in Kamilonui Valley are planning a community get-together from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Mariner's Cove Bay Club, 800 Lunalilo Home Road. For more information, contact the Livable Hawaii Kai Hui at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Suzanne Roig at email@example.com.