POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 14, 2011
In a remarkable editorial on Nov. 2, the Star-Advertiser declared that developer D.R. Horton's plan for urban agriculture at their controversial Ho‘opili project did not pass scrutiny ("Ho‘opili ag conviction falls flat," Our View, Star-Advertiser).
This will explain more.
Before its recent return to the Land Use Commission to get its land reclassified from ag to urban for the Ho‘opili project, Horton needed to counter the hard realities that the 1,525 acres of prime farmland it would take for the project are the highest-producing farmland in the state, that the land currently produces a whopping 30 percent of all the fresh local produce we eat, and that the day will come when the people of Hawaii will need that farmland to survive.
To do this, it concocted the "Ho‘opili Urban Agricultural Initiative," a marvelously imaginative Oz with "civic farms" for "commercial farming," eight acres of "community gardens" and 84 acres of small "steward farms."
The Urban Ag Initiative is a fanciful construct of words that resembles reality about as much as the yellow brick road. Horton has brazenly presented it to the public with maps and diagrams, and hired Nalo Farms' Dean Okimoto as poster boy to sell the myth as truth. Their maps incontrovertibly establish the falsehood.
The original Ho‘opili master plan map identifies a number of large light-green "open space/buffer" areas. Checking the GPS map, one finds that these are almost all gulches, gullies and hillsides — junk lands that the current farmer doesn't use at all. In its new Urban Agriculture Initiative map, however, these same gulches, gullies and hillsides are designated as the 159 acres available for lease as "commercial farms."
The second feature of the Urban Ag Initiative is eight acres of community gardens. These are the only things that seem to be real.
The most innovative facet of Horton's new plan is its 84 acres of "steward farms." "Steward" is a Biblical concept — the good steward caring for the lands of his master, reaping profits for him while administering his farm with justice. Horton's write-up adds a local flavor: It "captures the best parts of old Hawaii where families grew their own fruits and vegetables, either to eat themselves or to share."
Steward farms are "for-profit farming operations, on properties with agriculture-friendly covenants, where owners can produce their own food, share with neighbors, or even offer excess food produced to the general marketplace for sale."
The concept evokes pictures of as many as 84 farm-homes with an acre or more of additional property, or 42 homes with two additional acres each.
In a stunning revelation before the commission recently, however, it was disclosed that the prototype steward farm is a 1,200 square foot house on a 5,000 square foot lot — an R-5 lot, the smallest lot allowed in a subdivision. The "farm" turns out to be the same puny backyard and side slivers of land that one finds in any R-5 homesite, except that, instead of planting shrubs, these owners will plant "edible landscapes in order to enjoy the productive and economic value of their own land" — if they choose to. The "professionally managed farm services" that were to "support the farming operations" turn out to be landscape gardeners one might hire to care for the yard. And the special 84 acres of farmland all seem to have completely disappeared, absorbed into a multitude of R-5 house lots.
Again, D.R. Horton gets caught with its plants down. There are no real "commercial farms" in this project, nor any real steward farms. There is plenty of deceit.
They call it Ho‘opili, the gathering place. We call it Ho‘o-pilikia — deep trouble for all of us.