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Suit seeks to block evictions at Kahuku Village

The 233-page filing also claims city and state officials acted illegally to aid a developer

By Andrew Gomes

LAST UPDATED: 11:54 p.m. HST, Nov 6, 2013

An attorney representing many Kahuku Village V residents has launched a new salvo in a fight to keep his clients from being evicted from their rental homes -- a 233-page lawsuit filed in state court Monday.

Attorney Tony Locricchio filed the suit in Circuit Court on behalf of 33 families at the village known as KV5.

The suit seeks to halt several eviction proceedings being handled in state District Court, but also alleges a wide array of misdeeds by city and state officials -- including the mayor and governor -- that helped a Florida developer create fee-simple lots at KV5 for sale to village occupants or outsiders if occupants declined to buy.

KV5 was the subject of a three-part series that concluded Tuesday in the Star-Advertiser, and Locricchio had long planned to file a comprehensive lawsuit he referred to as "the big one."

"The massive size of the complaint is a result of 11/2 years of preparation,"the suit said.

Lex Smith, a Hawaii attorney representing KV5 developer Continental Pacific LLC, called the lawsuit "utterly baseless" and said he is confident that Continental will prevail against all claims.

Much of the lawsuit makes allegations that state officials failed to enforce a statute protecting Native Hawaiian burials. The suit claims that burials, or iwi, were destroyed by the developer and that fines provided for under state law were not issued.

The suit names officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources as defendants, from top officials to a reburial specialist and an archaeologist with the department's State Historic Preservation Division.

The departmentsaid it could not comment because it hasn't seen the lawsuit.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the state attorney general's office also are defendants in the suit, which seeks to have millions of dollars in fines applied against government officials for not upholding the law.

Continental has said that it has followed the historic-preservation law, including one instance where it stopped work to build two model homes after discovering iwi. Another burial was discovered by a Continental archaeologist where no work was being done and was treated properly, the company claims.

The lawsuit also names two past directors and the current head of the city Department of Planning and Permitting along with Mayor Kirk Caldwell for not stopping construction after residents complained about iwi being desecrated.

"(Our) demand to shut down the entire Kahuku Village project with the notice of discovery of the historic burial site and iwi ... was denied by the city and the developer,"the suit said.

The suit alleges that Continental has received preferential treatment from the city because Smith, the developer's attorney, was chairman of Caldwell's campaign and helped name George Atta as the head of the Planning Department.

City officials had no immediate comment Tuesday.

Locricchio alleges in the suit that the city, under Continental's influence, tried to retaliate against him with $40,000 in fines for building a floating model home in the yard of his Maunawili residence.

The attorney claimed that the city notified his mortgage lender and threatened to put a lien on his home if the fines were not paid. Locricchio contends that the structure is registered as a boat and is not subject to building permit requirements.

Locricchio said in the suit that he built the structure, which essentially is a studio connected to buoys that can be collared around pilings, as a United Nations demonstration project for use in Micronesia. The model was adapted for KV5 where 25 homes are in a flood zone.

Locricchio promoted the model as a solution to let 25 flood zone residents buy their lots from Continental and spend less than $20,000 to build a floating home largely from recycled materials.

Continental offered flood zone residents house lots outside the zone for $150,000, and moved to evict those who turned down the offer in December.

Locricchio contends that building a traditional new home and putting in a septic tank and other infrastructure would bring the total cost to $750,000 for flood zone residents. Because of this, he contends that Continental's $150,000 offer wasn't an offer at all and that Continental should not be allowed to evict tenants based on rejection of a false offer.

Continental earlier this year rescinded eviction proceedings for flood zone residents after the Planning Department said those 25 residents could continue renting in place for as long as they live or until 2040 at the latest.

Despite the reprieve, several floodway residents joined as plaintiffs in the new lawsuit.

Other plaintiffs live outside the flood zone, including Glen Maghanoy, who calls Continental's written offer to sell him his residence for $150,000 "not a proper offer."

Locricchio also contends in the suit that District Court judges have been biased and that evictions shouldn't be possible because lots weren't properly created for sale under the state's condominium law.

Continental received approval to create and sell homes and lots as condominiums, or "CPR homes." Locricchio filed a complaint with the state in March seeking to revoke the CPR designation.

To date, 20 sales have been completed or are under contract, including 15 to KV5 residents.

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