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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 15, 2006

'Keeping it country' can mean 'keep out'

By Buddy Ako

As a long-time Kahuku resident who has lived my entire life in the area, I think I know something about the country.

Like my friends who have made our homes here for decades, I have seen good times and bad, shared joy and sadness with my neighbors and watched dreams grow and fade away.

My Kahuku neighbors and I had a dream in the 1980s. We dreamed that when Kahuku Sugar Mill closed and hundreds of jobs were lost, Kahuku's future would not be lost, too.

Dozens of us met each month from 1983 to 1986 on a Turtle Bay Resort expansion plan to sustain Kahuku as a place to live, work and play in the country. Fulfilling our dream would be a way to avoid moving to town to find a job.

To us, more hotel rooms meant more jobs —not just in housekeeping, but also in the front office, in restaurants and shops, at the golf course and on the beach. We made sure at least half the new rooms would be full-service units to ensure a certain level of job creation.

We didn't stop there. We guaranteed that the landowner and all future landowners would have to honor a unilateral agreement calling for more beach access than ever — public parks right on the ocean with parking and amenities, miles of trails along the entire 5-mile length of the beach and multiple beach access points.

The agreement guaranteed that new housing would be built at prices many of us in Kahuku could afford. We stipulated that any future developer would have to satisfy our concerns over water availability, sewage treatment, archaeological preservation, landscaping, traffic mitigation and preserving the country character of the project.

We celebrated when first the state Land Use Commission and then the City Council approved measures to allow the resort's expansion. Our group of 50 to 60 — residents from the region, community organizations, businesses and the developer — continued to meet monthly from 1986 to 1995 to keep our dream on track.

It wasn't easy. We all know what the 1990s were like for our entire state. Landowners came and went as the economy suffered, but our dream to eventually enjoy the promised benefits never went away. We nurtured our Kahuku dream through the tough times in that decade and again after 9/11.

Our dream has matured steadily over the past 20 years and today is closer to being realized than most people know. But now, some are telling us our 20-year dream is too old. People who've lived here for fewer years than the dream has been alive tell us we don't need that dream anymore, that our ideas are out of step with the times. I say they're wrong. I say our dream is more alive than ever, stronger than ever and more certain than ever to come true.

My newest neighbors may not like it, but we took steps in the 1980s to be sure our hopes could not be dashed by those with no memory of our hardships.

That was an ordinance the City Council approved in the 1980s. Landowners over the years have relied on it, have abided by its conditions and have invested tens of millions of dollars toward the goal of expanding and improving the resort.

You don't just decide one day that the ordinance our dream created is irrelevant. Like it our not, our Unilateral Agreement is binding and those who worked for years to sustain it are committed to helping everyone else understand that fact.

Kuilima Resort Co. has been making presentations throughout the North Shore about the plan that was approved by the community and city, but almost without exception, audiences rarely have heard what was said. To us, their demand to "keep the country country" sounds more like "now that we're here, keep everyone else out!"

I'd like these new friends and neighbors to know that it's our country, too. They need to know that people were dreaming about economic sustainability long before many of them even knew where our country was.

So I say to our old and new neighbors in a kindly way, let's proceed together. I firmly believe we can preserve what we all love about the country even as our kids and grandkids anticipate a future that allows them to live and work here, too.

Without the people who made Kahuku and the North Shore what it is, the country really wouldn't be worth keeping.

Buddy Ako, a lifelong resident of Hau'ula and Kahuku, is a board member of the Kahuku Community Association and the Elderly Kahuku Housing Foundation. He is a past president of Kahuku Hospital and is employed by Kuilima Resort Company. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.