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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Turtle Bay expansion would alter quiet cove

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

The oceanfront of Kawela Bay is part of an expansion plan for the Turtle Bay Resort, which lies beyond the trees in this photo. An open-ended agreement with the city would allow development.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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As oceanfront property on the North Shore, remote Kawela Bay is relatively undisturbed part of an area that prides itself on being country.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The multibillion-dollar investment company that owns Turtle Bay Resort is planning to expand oceanfront property at Kawela Bay a secluded bay on the North Shore in accordance with a first-of-its-kind agreement reached with the city two decades ago.

In October 2005, the Kuilima Resort Co. and Oaktree Capital Management, which now owns Turtle Bay, lined up $400 million in loans, according to public records. Two months later, the company applied for a subdivision permit from the city Department of Planning and Permitting.

A three-phase "unilateral agreement" approved by the City Council in 1986 would allow the resort to eventually build 3,500 additional hotel and condo units. The agreement also includes provisions for a hotel at Kawela Bay, which is adjacent to Turtle Bay.

Yesterday, the company declined to comment on its expansion plans. On previous occasions, it dismissed talk about thousands of condo units at Kawela Bay, calling it outrageous.

The application for a subdivision permit is the first indication that since it stalled in the late '80s, the process is going forward. Records with the city show that the company applied for permits to begin the process of developing more than 700 acres near the Turtle Bay resort. The application, however, did not include details of the possible development.

Meanwhile, residents of the area expressed confusion about what the expansion plans might mean to a place that prides itself on being country.

City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the North Shore, met this week with members of the community who are anxious to know the resort's intentions.

"Basically, we haven't heard from the landowner," Dela Cruz said. "But there are a lot of concerns from the people there about the impact on traffic, the environment and density issues."

Gil Riviere, who chairs the Traffic and Transportation Committee for the North Shore Neighborhood Board, said many residents fear what a huge resort expansion could do to the already over-crowded two-lane highway that has carried traffic into and out of the community since the 1920s.

"We don't want a four-lane highway," Riviere said. "And of course everybody on the North Shore is very concerned because if you add another couple thousand hotel rooms and a couple thousand condos, you're probably going to add a few more cars to the road.

"So that's a real big issue, and apparently that 1986 agreement had no sundown provision. It doesn't expire."

Mark Cunningham, a retired North Shore lifeguard who lives at Kawela Bay, believes that the community needs to resist any massive development.

"I think O'ahu has reached its saturation point," Cunningham said. "We've reached our carrying capacity. And I just don't believe a development of that size belongs out here."

But like other worried residents, Cunningham admitted he doesn't know what "that size" actually means.

Resort officials have said almost nothing, other than that Turtle Bay intends to finally implement the city's first-ever unilateral agreement an open-ended deal that passed in 1986 but was never realized because of the financial problems of Asahi Jyuken, the Japanese company that owned the resort at the time.

To build on land zoned agricultural, owners of the 880-acre property, which included the Turtle Bay Hotel and approximately half of Kawela Bay, agreed to numerous conditions, including building four parks, rights of way to the beach, highway improvements, a half-million-dollar employment program even a childcare center for employees.

The fact that the agreement had no cutoff date is now being questioned.

The UNITE HERE Local 5 Union, which represents hotel workers at Turtle Bay and has been involved in a protracted labor dispute with the resort, has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the resort from gaining the development permits.

In a letter to the Department of Planning and Permitting, Local 5 argued that "significant events and changes have occurred in the ensuing two decades" that should void the agreement's open-ended aspect.

In a written response, Henry Eng, the department director, said no time frame for development was ever implied or imposed regarding the 1986 agreement.

"Further, as a matter of law, the city cannot retroactively impose time limits or unilaterally rescind an entitlement," wrote Eng.

Nevertheless, Eng's department deferred approval of Turtle Bay's subdivision permit application until April 26 pending clarification of, among other things, various proposed lot uses and other "discrepancies."

Sean Ginella, a real estate agent who lives at Kawela Bay, said area residents should resist jumping to conclusions. He also said that the community helped draft the unilateral agreement two decades ago and that, in general, folks were in favor of the deal.

"There's a lot of misinformation going around," Ginella said.

Residents should thank Oaktree for pumping some $80 million into a dilapidated hotel that hadn't been improved in two decades, he said.

"It was a dump," he said. "And the whole North Shore was perceived that way. They fixed it up and were good stewards, and the community as a whole has benefited from it."

Staff writer Andrew Gomes contributed to this report.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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