Jobs was the issue in '86; today, many fear loss of a beach
By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer
By Will Hoover
An open-ended deal that would allow Turtle Bay Resort to expand from fewer than 500 units to a total of 4,000 hotel rooms and condominium units, including a 380-room hotel at the secluded Kawela Bay, became law in 1986 with the approval of most residents on the North Shore.
"I don't recall any serious community objections," said Donald Clegg, who was the Honolulu chief planning officer at the time and the person who drafted the ordinance.
The agreement, which was unanimously approved by the City Council on Aug. 13 that year and is still in effect today, was lauded as the first deal of its kind between the city and a resort developer that included input from community residents, businesses and politicians.
The main attraction: Jobs — predictions of 3,500 new jobs in the area, including 2,600 at the resort itself.
Oaktree Capital Management, the $28 billion investment company that now owns Turtle Bay, has signaled that it wants to expand the resort under the old agreement.
The company has yet to comment on what its expansion plans are for Turtle Bay, but it recently applied for subdivision permit that would start the process.
Strong opposition voiced when the expansion proposal first came up in the early 1980s had given way to support by the time the bill was passed two decades ago.
On July 9, 1986, dozens of North Shore residents appealed to the City Council to back the development because of the jobs it would provide.
Clegg drafted an agreement with no cutoff date that established legally binding conditions the developer would be obligated to meet in exchange for a zoning clearance to allow the expansion.
Those conditions included amenities such as parks, public beach access, road improvements, an employee childcare center, and a half-million-dollar employment training program.
None of that ever materialized.
Changing market forces doomed the resort expansion after Asahi Jyuken, the Japanese company that owned the 880-acre property at the time, fell on hard financial times in the early 1990s.
That fact irks some folks.
Author John Clark, an authority on Hawai'i beaches, described Kawela Bay as "one of the best beaches and ocean recreation sites on O'ahu."
It's the last undeveloped bay on the North Shore and the safest bay in the area all year long, he said. It's ideal for kids and families. Trouble is, it's next to impossible to get there. Because the project never happened, easy public access to the bay didn't, either.
Surfers, swimmers and anglers who know the way park on Kamehameha Highway and trespass across an old access road to reach the bay.
"The bottom line is, it's one of the great resources on our shoreline, and we have no access to it," said Clark.
The deal left a bad taste with Bob Moncrief, as well. He was one of 37 tenants and six farmers who were evicted from the Turtle Bay side of Kawela Bay in 1986 to make way for the massive resort expansion that never happened.
Many of the evictees had lived for decades in vacation homes until their leasehold agreements expired and they were forced to leave. They opposed the unilateral agreement from the start, said Moncrief.
"We were never in favor of it," said Moncrief, who, like the others, watch bulldozers plow away his home. "We did all we could to fight it. But it was all for naught."
He said the lure of so many jobs was too attractive for blue-collar workers in the area. Plus, a protracted public relations push orchestrated by developers paid off, according to him.
Today, with land values exploding, residents who can afford to live on the North Shore are concerned about the environmental effects of thousands of hotel rooms and condos and the traffic that comes with them.
Jobs are no longer the issue, he said.
"That was the appeal then," added North Shore resident Tinker Blomfield. "We've learned better now. That bay is so beautiful and pristine. Just to be able to go there and see a piece of beach that's not developed is wonderful. We've got to save those places."
As it stands, Oaktree Capital Management can proceed with its development plans as spelled out in the unilateral agreement, according to Clegg.
Former state Rep. Jim Shon was critical of the open-ended aspect of the deal back in the 1980s and still says it was a mistake.
The agreement should have had a three- to five-year expiration date, he said.
But Clegg argued that a long-term, three-phase development such as the Turtle Bay Resort expansion shouldn't be so restricted. A project that large could take up to a decade to complete, he said.
Two decades later, Shon says the community has options. Since the same unilateral agreement that entitles Oaktree to develop also requires it to build amenities, the city should insist the public improvements are made up front.
"You put in all the amenities — make a good-faith effort on that — and then let the city consider the other proposals on their merits," Shon said yesterday.
"But you don't get to first base until you put in the promised amenities."
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.