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Kakaako new hotbed of land activity and political intrigue

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 2:05 a.m. HST, Nov 21, 2011

Gov. Neil Abercrombie must be giving thanks that people don't always listen to him.

Back in 2005, Abercrombie the Congressman held a news conference in Kakaako to demand that the Hawaii Community Development Authority be scrapped.

Specifically, Abercrombie was upset that the HCDA did not include a rail transit stop in the $650 million Kewalo Basin redevelopment plan put together with A&B Properties.

"This plan does not take into account our ordinary hard-working people of Hawaii," Abercrombie said six years ago. "The best solution is for the Legislature to repeal the act that brought the HCDA into existence and put the authority back with the city."

Good thing the Legislature ignored Abercrombie, because the HCDA has become the mighty club swung by Abercrombie the Governor, as he hopes to define the Honolulu's shoreline, pay the Office of Hawaiian Affairs $200 million and develop a 650-foot condominium tower on the site of the old Pohukaina School.

The HCDA was a contrivance dreamed up in the 1970s by the Legislature in one of its "we have to do something mean to Mayor Frank Fasi" fits. It gives all the zoning, building code and other municipal regulations to a state board, which is pretty much free to do whatever it wants.

The signature skyscraper deal is now being assembled by HCDA. Just last week Abercrombie and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs came up with the redefine-and-rebuild plan that calls for the state to give OHA $200 million worth of Kakaako makai land, including the ewa boundary of Kewalo Basin. The land is part of a long- festering settlement called for in the state Constitution.

The 25 acres that the state wants to give to OHA are now mostly abandoned, but if you stand among the wreckage and look to Diamond Head, or to the ocean or the mountains, it is immediately obvious that the glorious vistas are at an unequaled intersection of sun and sea.

Back in 2005 the HCDA tried to let A&B build parks and condos and shopping malls on the property. Suddenly everyone except A&B realized that there would be scores of apartment buildings and people stomping around taking in all the swell views and possibly shushing away the common folk. Up sprang the Friends of Kewalo Basin, headed by now-retired Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Ron Iwami, to protest the plan.

The red-T-shirt clad protesters did such a good job looking on with stern disapproval at the Legislature that a new state law was passed telling HCDA it could not put residential anything in the entire makai portion.

But of course, the commercial zoning was left intact.

Iwami says if OHA can follow the detailed conceptual plan put together by HCDA over the past three years, it could be a win-win for all concerned.

"If they use the vision and guiding principles, it could work," Iwami says.

OHA's attorney, Bill Meheula, says the property in play is already valued at $200 million without changing the zoning to residential. The final decision for the state of Hawaii/OHA deal will have to be made by the Legislature, which is free to tinker with the boundaries or other parts of the deal.

Left unsaid is the unfairness of putting this sort of temptation in plain view of our legislators. This new plan is the confluence of every argument about Native Hawaiian sovereignty, intelligent land use, preserving open space, the traditional Hawaiian practice of maxing out your property and lawmakers trying to cut another deal.

Do I have to remind you that the Gavan Daws/George Cooper book, "Land and Power in Hawaii," was not written about the Boy Scouts?

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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