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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 17, 2006

No deal on Kailua land swap

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

A land developer who proposed a land swap through which a new Kailua High School would be built at the foot of Mount Olomana in exchange for the right to build homes on the present campus site withdrew the offer yesterday.

In a letter addressed to Board of Education member Paul Vierling, who chaired a committee looking into the proposal, developer Christopher Dey indicated he was pulling the offer because the Board of Education was not prepared to move forward on the matter.

The letter left open the possibility that the deal might be revived. Dey wrote that his family believes the proposal "was an innovative approach for the state Department of Education to construct a new, state-of-the-art Kailua High School at a time when it is needed."

He also said a successful land swap "could be a catalyst for future public-private partnerships benefiting the state's public educational system on all of the Islands."

The proposal was to go before the Board of Education tonight for final action, but Vierling said he had expected any action to fail. "I suspect, based on what I heard at the last meeting I had, that it wasn't going to get majority support," he said.

"I'm disappointed," Vierling said, "not because I'm supportive to that particular project, but because I feel it cuts short the opportunity for us to learn more of how we could strike these kinds of partnerships. Up in Kahuku on the North Shore, they're in a very similar situation where they could use a new high school, and developers had expressed an interest, but they don't know how the public will react until someone starts the dialog.

"It's like putting a sign on the door 'closed for business.' I'm concerned we're sending the message that anyone who comes forward with an innovative idea whether it be constructing a high school or educational reform, that 'No, the Hawai'i BOE is closed for business,' " Vierling said.

A year ago, Dey proposed exchanging $70 million plus 97 acres of conservation land he and his wife own at the foot of Mount Olomana for an approximately 73-acre state parcel where Kailua High sits. Dey proposed to build 525 homes on the Kailua High parcel and adjacent state land.

In investigating the proposal, committee member Herbert Watanabe raised questions about the conservation zoning of Dey's land; eventual costs tied to building on a long narrow parcel with terrain that included a 30-foot slope; and about potential drainage, traffic, transport and wastewater issues.

Noting that land swaps are generally properties of equal value, schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said the Dey property was valued at $213,000 compared to the state property valued at $14.2 million.

The proposal received mixed reaction from neighbors of the two sites. Among the concerns were an increase of traffic in the Pohakupu subdivision as well as the negation of years of community effort to prevent development on the slopes of Olomana.

Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the department and Board of Education, said that other members of Vierling's committee were suggesting that the proposal be dropped.

"It was the sense of the committee as a whole that it wasn't worth pursuing," Knudsen said.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.