Turtle Bay expansion tentatively approved
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
KAHUKU — The city has given tentative approval to an expansion at Turtle Bay Resort that could transform the North Shore.
Although limited to such matters as the establishment of lots and easements for the project, development officials said the city's action allows them to move forward with further planning.
"We are very pleased that they granted the approval, but the tentative approval is just a small step in the whole process," said Nathan Hokama, spokesman for Kuilima Resort Co., which is developing the project. "It's an important step, but it's very small."
Tentative approval requires Kuilima Resort Co. to submit development plans by the end of the year. They may, however, seek an extension. The city Planning Department must then review and approve the plans before any actual building permit is issued.
The development has the potential to change the face of the North Shore, with plans to build two hotels with a maximum total of 900 rooms at Kawela Bay, a secluded cove adjacent to Turtle Bay. Also planned is a hotel on each side of the existing Turtle Bay Resort and a fifth hotel near Kahuku Point. The new development also would include four public parks and expanded public access to beaches.
As a comparison, the current resort has one hotel, fewer than 500 units, and two golf courses.
The expansion is based on an agreement reached in 1986 by developers, the city, the state and members of the North Shore community.
The promise of 3,500 jobs has some in the community eager for progress on the plan, while others worry about the environmental effects of thousands of hotel rooms and condos. The impact of the traffic on already stressed roads in the area also is a concern.
Critics say the 20-year-old plan needs to be re-examined. The revival of the plan prompted a lawsuit in May by two groups, the newly formed Keep the North Shore Country and the Sierra Club's Hawai'i chapter. The suit seeks an updated environmental impact statement because the project is being undertaken two decades after the first assessment was completed.
Area residents opposed to the project yesterday expressed disappointment over the city department's action, which occurred late last month.
Choon James, a member of the Defend O'ahu Coalition, said, "Our main concern is the public has never been able to have a dialogue with the mayor or the City Council."
After resort officials released the expansion plans in March, opponents called for a public hearing to discuss the agreement passed unanimously by the Honolulu City Council in April 1986. It has no cutoff date and remains in effect.
City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the North Shore, said yesterday that he was unaware that the tentative subdivision approval had been granted.
"My understanding was that (city Department of Planning and Permitting) was not going to take any action until the pending litigation was resolved," Dela Cruz said. "So, I'm very surprised."
Following the release of the expansion proposal, Dela Cruz said, the City Council was considering changes to update the agreement but halted the effort when the city Corporation Counsel recommended postponing discussion until the lawsuit was settled.
Dela Cruz said he assumed the city department would also be asked to shelve decisions tied to the matter.
But Henry Eng, director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, said he's required to process the application, and the applicant met all the conditions for tentative approval.
"If they submit a bona fide application, we have to act on it," Eng said.
Hokama said Kuilima Resort Co. has yet to finalize building plans and noted that the company must now seek final approval for the subdivision map.
"As far as the next step, it's really understanding and spending a lot more time with these communities," he said, adding that a new CEO has taken over and hopes to meet with community groups to discuss the issues.
Not all residents oppose the project. Some Kahuku residents participated in the creation of the unilateral agreement and see it as an economic booster that will provide jobs to area residents. Although the wait has been long, residents still want to see the area developed, said Warren Soh, with the Kahuku Community Association.
"I'm happy that it's moving forward because it's going to be a benefit for the community," Soh said.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.