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Heiau abides high-rise

A developer and a community group collaborate to accommodate the old and the new in Hawaii Kai

By Mike Gordon


They gathered just off the corner of a busy intersection, a small, diverse group of people whose connection to the place where they stood put them at a philosophical crossroads.

Until recently, they had feuded about the future of the area. On one side, community activists. On the other, a developer. For years, neither could agree on what should be done on the last undeveloped parcel of land in Hawaii Kai.

Now they stood together as a Hawaiian cultural practitioner blessed their efforts: They promised to protect the 8-acre site, which will see both the construction of a high-rise condominium and the preservation of an ancient heiau complex, petroglyphs, a grove of coconut trees and a wetland.

The $300 million luxury condo — Hale Ka Lae — will be built at the base of Mariners Ridge where Keahole Street meets Hawaii Kai Drive. It will have a 10-story building and a four-story building for a total of 242 units. The units are expected to sell for between $700,000 and $3.8 million.

But the construction plan is vastly different than the one originally proposed.

The condo will be built on 3 acres and the rest will become the property of

Liveable Hawaii Kai Hui, a nonprofit community group that will maintain the area for the public. The hui was able to persuade the landowner to sell a 5-acre portion that contained the most sensitive features of the site instead of destroying much of them for a gated community.

No one involved would ever have predicted the level of coexistence that now governs the site, said Elizabeth Reilly, a member of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board and president of the hui. There was a time when critics of the project were threatened with lawsuits, but now she calls the relationship a role model for developers in Hawaii.

"This is about the land and caring for the land ... that all of us can continue on with a good heart and an open mind," Reilly said. "As we continue to take care of the land, it will take care of us."

The site was once a home to a pre-contact Hawaiian village. Henry J. Kaiser did not develop it when he built Hawaii Kai. The area's Hawea Heiau complex and its petroglyphs, which are about 75 feet from a sidewalk, were hidden by kiawe trees and scrub for decades.

The hui, which is still finalizing the property deal with the help of The Trust for Public Land, will create a preservation plan for the site's cultural resources and a conservation plan for the wetlands. Both will become a source of pride for the area, Reilly said.

"These are resources you read about and we are now going to have them in our community," she said. "I think it will impact us in a favorable way because it is a living example of how development can cohabitate with preservation and conservation efforts."

PRESERVING the wetland was a precious victory for Mardi LaPrade, a Kalama Valley resident and elementary school science teacher at Maryknoll who fell in love with the endangered Hawaiian moorhens that frequent the area. The birds are endemic to Hawaii and wildlife experts estimate there are no more than 400 left.

"Every little wetland, even one as small as ours, is important," said LaPrade, who dreams of using the site as an educational resource. "We have great plans so we can do everything to ensure the survival of the birds."

The project began about seven years ago under local developer Mike Klein. Although the property is zoned for 40- and 60-foot buildings, Klein received a permit from the city to build to a height of 90 feet.

It was a contentious period, though. Area residents and neighborhood board members were threatened with legal action if they did not refrain from making critical comments about the project, which at that time was called Hale Ali'i.

And the developer upset community members in 2009 when grading was done without proper permits and an archaeological monitoring plan. Klein said the work did not harm anything of significance, but hui members and cultural practitioners have maintained that parts of the heiau complex were damaged.

But early last year, the South Korea-based majority investor in the project — Hanwha Corp. — replaced Klein with Mike Greco, a developer with 32 years of experience and projects on the mainland, in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean, and most recently in Hawaii.

Greco helped engineer a fresh start for the project while dramatically improving relationships with the community. The project came to a halt for six months of re-evaluation and regular meetings with Livable Hawaii Kai Hui.

Preserving the site's natural features seemed the only logical thing to do, because unless Greco was going to bulldoze everything — which he personally opposed — he didn't need 8 acres for a 3-acre project, he said.

And there was a responsibility not only to the community, but also to the design of Hawaii Kai, said Greco, who also lives in the area.

"I think it finishes off what was started here in a grand way," he said. "I think it will bring a lot to the community to have that type of park there and I can almost guarantee that we are going to raise property values. At the end of the day, it will enrich Hawaii Kai."

THE AMENITIES are another part of what makes Hale Ka Lae special, Greco said. They include a private dining and wine-tasting room, electric-vehicle charging stations, a golf

simulator, a theater, pools and a fitness center. The one-, two- and three-bedroom units will range in size from 980 to 3,065 square feet, not including large outdoor lanais.

"Our condos are like individual homes," he said. "I think the vision was a sense of place. You have everything you could possibly want. It's true luxury living."

Construction is expected to start by the end of this year and take up to 24 months to complete, Greco said.

Hale Ka Lae will have an affordable housing component but not on the same site, as originally planned. It will now be built elsewhere in Hawaii Kai in a location that Greco said he can't disclose at this time. Plans call for 63 units in a pair of two-story buildings not far from the luxury site, he said.

During her blessing ceremony, Kaleo Paik went to all corners with offerings that included kukui nuts, pieces of lama wood, limu, salt, water and pieces of coral.

She also spiritually cleansed everyone who was there, including Greco, Reilly, LaPrade, several construction workers and Hale Ka Lae sales staff. Paik wanted them to move forward with an open heart and an open mind, she said.

It seemed the right thing to do.

"We are making a commitment," she told the group. "That is what this blessing means. We are making a commitment that every action will have at its forefront, the blessing of the land."

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