Castle & Cooke Homes Hawaii fights to see its Koa Ridge development survive a legal challenge
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2011
Building homes on farmland between Waipio and Mililani got the green light from a state commission last year, but a potential red light recently arose and could stop the estimated $2.2 billion project known as Koa Ridge.
Project developer Castle & Cooke Homes Hawaii received state Land Use Commission approval in October to develop an initial phase of Koa Ridge on 576 acres for 3,500 homes, a hotel, medical campus, a school, parks and commercial space.
Castle & Cooke submitted an application for a zoning change with the city and county in June. If that gets approved, the developer had anticipated beginning infrastructure construction next year, and delivering initial homes by the end of 2013.
That timetable was revised from an earlier projection for starting construction this year and delivering initial homes in late 2012 or early 2013.
However, a legal challenge to the commission's approval filed by the Sierra Club was largely upheld on July 19 in Circuit Court.
The environmental group appealed the LUC decision to Circuit Court in November, arguing that one of the six votes by LUC commissioners approving the land-use change was invalid because one commissioner was an improper holdover member.
The now-former commissioner in question, Duane Kanuha, had been rejected for reappointment by the state Senate in April 2010 after his four-year term expired in June 2009. But Kanuha stayed on the commission as a holdover member of then-Gov. Linda Lingle even after the Senate rejection.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto ruled in favor of the Sierra Club, but a new argument raised by a deputy attorney general during oral arguments challenged the Sierra Club's ability to have Kanuha disqualified.
Sakamoto scheduled a hearing on the issue for Aug. 24 to give the Sierra Club time to respond.
If the Sierra Club prevails, it would prevent Castle & Cooke from seeking a new LUC approval for Koa Ridge for at least a year.
If Koa Ridge is allowed to proceed, the developer expects it can meet its stated timetable for an initial phase.
A second phase of Koa Ridge known as Castle & Cooke Waiawa was more uncertain under the LUC's October decision.
Phase 2 involves 1,500 homes and one school planned for another 192 acres on the Diamond Head side of H-2 freeway across from the initial phase of Koa Ridge.
The LUC made its approval of phase 2 conditioned on the developer starting construction on expensive road infrastructure, which would need to span a gulch, within 20 years. Castle & Cooke also must have construction bonds in place for the work and any cost-sharing agreements with neighboring landowner Kamehameha Schools.
OTHER concerns over the project included the displacement of farming, lost farmland and increased traffic.
Castle & Cooke plans to relocate Aloun Farms, which leases about 325 acres of the project site to grow vegetables and seed corn, to 667 acres in Wahiawa.
Taking the land out of farming cannot be undone, but Castle & Cooke said the site once planted in pineapple is within the city's urban growth boundary that designates where urban growth should be directed so that farmland elsewhere can be protected.
Other mitigation measures to which the developer committed include building an H-2 freeway interchange at Pineapple Road and H-2 interchange connections at Ka Uka Boulevard.
The state Department of Transportation is also expected to implement a number of transportation improvements that should reduce traffic impacts of Koa Ridge, including an afternoon zipper lane, shoulder lane use and a direct connection linking H-2 to a planned park-and-ride rail station at Pearl Highlands.
Castle & Cooke said benefits of the project include satisfying a growing need for housing, job creation and a new medical facility operated by the Wahiawa Hospital Association.
The developer said Koa Ridge should generate two jobs for every three homes, or 2,500 jobs within the community. At least 30 percent of homes, or 1,500 homes, would be affordable to low- and moderate-income households under present city guidelines.