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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 5, 2006

Let's sing Nukoli'i blues again

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

What do you call it when time bends back on itself? When the warfare of 30 years ago is wiped away with a dismissive shrug and developers start using the same words to sell a property that opponents used decades earlier to decry the initial bulldozing of the land?

It is insanity.

But not everyone has forgotten. Not everyone is new.

For those who recall the battle that was summed up in the name "Nukoli'i" in the late 1970s and early '80s on Kaua'i, the marketing campaign now being used to repackage the place as a condo-hotel is jaw-dropping in its impudence:

"Kauai is not heavily developed, and its resort areas are concentrated in only a few locations around the island. There is an ordinance on Kauai that no building structure can be higher than a coconut tree, or the equivalent of four stories. Local laws prevent the island from looking like Miami's South Beach or Oahu's Waikiki."

Yes, but local laws did not prevent Nukoli'i from being built into an ill-advised, wind-swept hotel in the middle of otherwise unspoiled agricultural land on a beach beloved only by skilled local fishermen and hardy surfers, a place that quickly went from a purported "top visitor destination" to the kind of discount place where Neighbor Island high school teams stay during tournaments and where small nonprofits hold their $9-a-plate luncheons.

And now, it's being sold, room by room, as a condo and it's being marketed as a great chance to own a piece of unspoiled, underdeveloped Kaua'i.

"Why Kauai Beach Resort?" the sales Web site asks. "Fee simple ownership of beachfront property is rare. Extremely rare.

"Lack of supply and high demand for oceanfront property."

Oh, the irony.

The fight over developing Nukoli'i went on for a decade, through two county elections. There were marches and demonstrations, lawsuits and injunctions, marathon council meetings. The mayor said he got death threats.

And in the end, Kaua'i voted 59 percent to 40 percent to build the hotel. Many local workers and local business leaders backed developer Hasegawa Komuten, citing jobs as their bottom-line quality-of-life issue.

And now, owning a kitchen-less condo on a rocky, windy beach is being sold as a quality-of-life purchase.

Could Nukoli'i happen again? Oh, you bet. So much has changed, but the undercurrent remains the same and will remain the same as long as there is money to be made. There is so little unspoiled land left. Buy your little corner of spoiled land while you can. Better to be one of the spoilers than one of the sad rememberers.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.