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

City, Turtle Bay execs should come to terms

Sometimes, the best outcome is no longer practical.

In the case of the Turtle Bay Resort expansion project in Kahuku, the best outcome would have been the opportunity to renegotiate the entire plan, based on current conditions. But a legally binding unilateral agreement was struck 20 years ago by the City Council and the project owner, after lengthy discussions with the community.

Its benefits include increased shoreline access, park development, some affordable housing and, of course, jobs. Employment opportunity seemed the most attractive element in 1986, when many were worried about the plantation economy's demise.

The North Shore has changed, but the council made the mistake of inking an accord that contained no expiration clause. Now the new owner, the Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management, has made it clear that the intent is to move forward with the expansion, basically the way it was conceived two decades ago.

The company has that right, enshrined in the contract. So, despite the reasonable concerns about how traffic and urbanization might affect the North Shore communities, the city really can't put on the brakes without drawing down an enormously expensive lawsuit.

That is simply not in the cards.

So the resolution introduced by the community's council representative, Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, marks the start of a more hopeful effort to bring the agreement up to date. All the amenities should be built according to current standards, including the share of residential units developed at an affordable price point. The 10 percent allotment dictated by the agreement no longer seems sufficient.

Even if the resolution passes, city planning and zoning still must decide how to proceed. Kuilima is currently in the best bargaining position and is not compelled to yield on anything.

But the company needs to be realistic, and its executives should seriously consider the proposed update. For the long-term success of the project, the good will of the community is essential.

The expanded resort is conceived as a self-contained destination, but it's not an island. The community presence will be greater than ever and a cooperative approach to the project is in everyone's best interest.

Let the discussions begin.

Correction: Oaktree Capital Management, based in Los Angeles, is the owner of the Turtle Bay Resort. O'ahu-based Kuilima Resort Co., an arm of Oaktree, is the developer of an expansion planned for the site. A previous version of this editorial included incorrect information.