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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 14, 2006

Area residents debate Turtle Bay expansion

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Gay Porter spoke against an expansion of Turtle Bay Resort at a community meeting at Hau'ula Elementary School. Last night was the first formal opportunity for the public to comment on the resort's plan.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Kaui Benson, who works at Turtle Bay Resort, says she supports the plan for expansion because the resort has provided her with opportunities to support her family.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HAU'ULA About 200 people filled a school cafeteria last night to hear and discuss plans for a large-scale expansion of the Turtle Bay Resort, with the crowd appearing to be evenly split between supporters and opponents.

"Do you guys care if people don't like what you're doing?" Ka'a'awa resident Gay Porter said to Kuilima Resort Co. representatives when it was her turn to speak. "Sounds like you're going to go ahead whether we like it or not."

Half of the crowd in the Hau'ula Elementary School cafeteria burst into applause.

But another speaker, Kaui Benson, said people are blaming the resort for problems it didn't create.

"When surf is up in Hale'iwa and there is traffic, what does Turtle Bay have to do with that?" said Benson, 30, who works at the Turtle Bay Resort golf shop.

"They're bringing more opportunity here," Benson said. "Turtle Bay has given me an opportunity I would not have gotten anywhere else."

Turtle Bay supporters, many wearing white shirts with the resort's honu logo, applauded in agreement.

The resort's owners sent ripples through the North Shore community earlier this year when it announced plans to add five new hotels with 3,500 rooms, plus condominium units.

Last night's meeting of the Ko'olauloa Neighborhood Board was the first formal opportunity for the public to comment on the expansion plans.

Keith Kurahashi, president of Kusao and Kurahashi Inc., planning and zoning consultants for Kuilima Resort Co., last night outlined the company's redevelopment plans to the gathering.

Several board members said they are concerned with the additional traffic that five new hotels could create. Kurahashi told the board that the people who come to the resort would be looking for a "rural experience" and likely would not create increased traffic because they would not be commuting into town.

Board member Kathryn Heath said, "I'm a little concerned that you say that people who come (to Turtle Bay) are looking for a rural destination, but these plans will change the definition of 'rural' in this area."

Kurahashi said the development would not destroy the North Shore's rural atmosphere, saying the resort has "more land than Waikiki but the development is significantly less than what is occurring in Waikiki."

Matthew Hall, director of golf at Turtle Bay, said he respects the sentiment of residents who oppose the development, but he said people should consider the good things the resort and its employees have done for the community.

"We instituted junior golf. I've helped out local high schools. These aren't the things we try to get in the papers but we just do it," he said.

However, many feel that the sheer size of the expansion is too much for the North Shore to handle.

"I love Turtle Bay (Resort) just the way it is. I eat at the restaurant, my friends golf there. But five times bigger? No, thank you," said Mark Cunningham, a Kawela Bay resident.

The proposed expansion would be allowed by a unilateral agreement by the City Council in 1986 to allow Turtle Bay Resort to expand to a total of 4,000 hotel rooms and condominiums, including a 380-room hotel at the secluded Kawela Bay.

"The world has changed in 20 years," said project opponent Gwen Kim, a social worker who works in the area. "We are smarter now."

Raymond Vincent, a Kahuku fisherman, said that the development would ruin one of the "best fishing spots on the island."

"I have fished this spot without any problems, but how will it be in the future?" he said.

Doug Carlson, spokesman for Kuilima Resort Co., said the company plans to make good on promises under the 1986 agreement, such as:

  • Opening 26 acres of beachfront from Kawela Bay's midpoint to Kahuku Point.

  • Creating four public parks totaling 50 acres within the development area.

  • Making highway improvements that include turning lanes and traffic lights.

  • Providing affordable housing equal to 10 percent of the nonhotel units.

    Dee Dee Letts, chairwoman of the Ko'olauloa Neighborhood Board, said many community members feel Turtle Bay should not be allowed to capitalize on a 20-year-old agreement.

    "A lot of changes have happened in the community in 20 years and a lot of laws have changed in 20 years," Letts said. "We do not feel that it is a level playing field to allow Turtle Bay to pick up a 20-year-old permit that had no cultural resource, no socioeconomic resource assessment."

    However, Letts said that many residents also support the expansion because it could create thousands of jobs.

    "I think the jobs issue is still going to come up. I also think there are going to be some people who think since (Turtle Bay) jumped through all the hurdles 20 years ago, they should be allowed to proceed," she said.

    Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.