Condo plan revived for Hawaii Kai site
by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
A development firm planning a condominium in Hawai'i Kai with roughly 300 units has apologized to the community and is asking for a chance to better address concerns over the long-delayed project called Hale Ali'i.
At a presentation for the Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board last week, project representatives pledged to end what in the past were sometimes combative actions that included threatening opponents with lawsuits, in hopes of advancing the project that includes both luxury and affordable units.
Hale Ali'i has been in the works for more than five years on the last large parcel of undeveloped land zoned for homes in the east O'ahu community.
But despite earning previous neighborhood board support, the project has been beset by issues including satisfying a county affordable housing requirement and protecting archaeological features on the property near the Oahu Club on Hawai'i Kai Drive.
Design plans are being reassessed, and top management of Hale Ali'i Development LLC has been reorganized, according to Mike Greco, who was named Hale Ali'i's chief operating officer March 1.
Greco, a former construction vice president with Chicago-based developer Fifield Cos., said at the meeting that the changes are being made at the direction of Hanwha Corp., a South Korea-based company that is the majority investor in the project.
Local developer Mike Klein, who long headed Hale Ali'i Development, still has an ownership interest in the project, but no longer directs the company.
Hale Ali'i Development also recently hired Dawn Chang of local consulting firm Ku'iwalu as a cultural consultant, and public relations firm Communications Pacific to help with community outreach.
"Just give us a chance to turn this around and do the right thing," Greco said. "We will do the right thing."
Several area residents and a few neighborhood board members expressed reservations about Hale Ali'i's intentions, and told Greco that an attorney representing Hale Ali'i Development had sent them letters from recent months to years threatening legal action if they didn't remove or refrain from making alleged false and defamatory statements by word, in print or on the Internet regarding the project.
Wayne Levy, a neighborhood board member, asked Greco if it was safe for him to ask questions about the project given the legal threat.
Greco apologized for the letters and said recipients would be receiving written retractions.
"I want you people to feel very open to talk to us," he said.
After the meeting, Greco said he was unaware of such letters until they were mentioned at the meeting last Tuesday.
Five people at the meeting, including three board members, said they received such letters. Others also have received letters. One of the board members, who asked not to be identified out of caution for legal liability, was angry about the letters but expressed willingness to cut Hale Ali'i Development some slack to mend the rift.
Rene Garvin, another board member, told Greco she believes his intentions are good. Others remained skeptical.
Hale Ali'i's most recent design included an 11-story first phase with 133 luxury units ranging from about 1,500 square feet to 4,400 square feet with shared amenities including a wine tasting room, movie theater and resort-style spa.
Unit prices ranged from about $1.3 million to $3.7 million when an initial batch of 68 units were placed on the market last year. The developer had anticipated starting construction last month, but has not.
A second building expected to satisfy a county requirement to provide affordable units was to be developed adjacent to the luxury building and a private landscaped park with features including lagoon-style waterways, floating cabanas and a sand-edged pool with ozone-purified water.
Greco said all the plans are being reviewed and could change.
One major area of contention discussed at the meeting was treatment of cultural artifacts on the site, which was once part of a pre-contact Hawaiian village.
There is disagreement over whether the project site was once home to a heiau, or place of worship.
Some concerned residents who have researched the area, including Chris Cramer and Ann Marie Kirk of community group Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, believe remnants of the heiau or heiau complex are on the site identified for development of the recreational amenities, and that the site should be restored and preserved.
The State Historic Preservation Division, an agency trusted to protect such sites, has said the heiau in question, Hawea Heiau, was not on the project site. However, Kirk and others believe troubles at SHPD, which recently was put on a form of probation by the National Park Service for operational deficiencies, haven't done a thorough job assessing the site.
The developer has a SHPD-approved plan to preserve three petroglyphs on an old lava flow descending from Kaluanui Ridge, or Mariner's Ridge, while developing the rest of the site.
Kirk and Cramer said they have visited the site and identified what they believe are other petroglyphs, including one disturbed or destroyed by grading work on part of the site last year — work that was done without a required archeological monitoring plan and resulted in a violation notice from the county. They also say other artifacts including an ancient well and remnants of a coconut grove should be preserved.
Chang of Ku'iwalu said past mistakes such as the grading incident can't be undone, but she encouraged community members to share any information that would help confirm the location of Hawea Heiau or ensure better stewardship of the property. "We are listening to the community," she said. "This site is important. We really are trying to do this the right way."