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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

City mishandling effort to take Hau'ula land from owner, critics say

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

After almost a decade of searching for a new location, the Hau'ula Fire Station may have a new home, but some residents are raising concerns about the city's process to obtain the land through condemnation.

The City Council is considering taking two properties of about 20,000 square feet each through eminent domain, offering the owners $521,000 each for their commercial-zoned, vacant land next to the old KFC in Hau'ula.

The two lots are owned separately by sisters. One sister has agreed to sell to the city. But the other, Realtor Choon James, said she's not willing to sell and has plans to develop an office building on her lot, at the corner of Kamehameha Highway and Kawaipuna Street.

James said she told the city about her sister's lot, knowing it had been looking for a post office site. Now she regrets it, she said.

"I should have kept my big mouth shut," James said. She said the condemnation process was poorly handled and that other options are available. "I'm going to make this into a test case because if this is so badly done and the city is going to approve condemnation, what's going to happen to all the rail condemnation?"

Others have also raised concerns. The City Council Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the matter at 9 a.m. today at Ho-no-lulu Hale.

The Ko'olauloa Neighborhood Board and the Hau'ula Community Association said they do not believe a proper process was followed.

The Hau'ula Community Association "is distressed that there seems to be ongoing problems with timely communication between government agencies, consultants and our community," association director Barbara Kahana wrote to the City Council.

The city is working under an April 30 deadline to request a federal Community Development Block Grant to purchase the land.

At a committee hearing Jan. 13, council members advanced the resolution but expressed reservations.

The sisters' two properties are ideal because they offer the fire station two ways to access Kawaipuna Street and Kamehameha Highway, said Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the area.

The search for a site has gone on for at least a decade, Dela Cruz said. The existing station, 45 years old, sits in a flood plain.