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Hear out Haleiwa hotel idea

If it were possible for an entire community to collectively take a deep breath, now would be a good time and Haleiwa would be the place.

A proposal to build an 80-room "boutique" hotel in the area now occupied by Jameson’s by the Sea restaurant and empty scrub land has fired up North Shore residents in the way that many development proposals for the district have done in the past.

There’s good reason for this. Oahu’s North Shore is prized for its rural character and its world-famous ocean recreation resources. The fact that it is served only by a narrow highway complicates all initiatives to tap the capacity for residential or tourist growth. There’s only so much room.

But the conceptual plan by developer D. G. "Andy" Anderson to recreate the turn-of-the-century Haleiwa Hotel is bedeviled by one more fact: He would need to buy a strip of adjacent "remnant" city land, part of a much larger area that had been eyed for a regional park. The disposition of public land should always be a matter for public concern.

Beyond that, Anderson, a longtime political figure in the islands, has some history on the North Shore that has come back to haunt him here. Anderson was the developer of the Sunset Beach Colony gated community near the famed Velzyland surf spot that raised considerable controversy in the past decade. The project involved the eviction of about 100 residents of the area, and these are people whose ears perk up at the sound of his name.

That’s one reason the notion of the Haleiwa hotel generated such a storm at a community meeting Tuesday. But viewed in isolation from all that, the idea itself might have merit. Other than the many unlicensed vacation rentals in the region, there is no place to stay nearby, and a strictly limited plan for an inn designed to match the town’s historic character could be an asset, one that produces jobs as well.

First, the public needs to hear some of the finer points about the project and plans for mitigating potential problems with traffic and other issues. The City Council will have to approve both any land transfer and any request for development permits, which means residents will have an adequate chance to weigh in at several stops along the way.

» The city must decide whether to keep the property, or to sell it to Anderson or Kamehameha Schools, the estate from which some of the land was acquired decades ago through condemnation. Officials for the city and the estate yesterday were still checking into the history of that transaction. City administration spokesman Johnny Brannon said the parcels in question were only a small corner of a much larger area that had been envisioned as a park. He said he didn’t know why the city never moved to acquire the rest of the land that’s needed but added that he knew of no plan for the city to develop the smaller portion for public use.

» Park use for the undeveloped parcels would be complicated, Anderson said, by the poor drainage in the area and the lack of capacity for a septic tank due to the nearness of the shoreline. This means Anderson would build a sewage treatment plant to accommodate both the hotel and a small passive park he said he could transfer to community ownership.

» One condition of any sale, Brannon said, would be adding a parking lot of about 25-30 stalls for users of the beach park across the street. This would improve, rather than diminish, public use of the existing city park.

It is completely understandable why so much emotion is attached to this preliminary proposal. But emotion can also obscure the facts, which should be reviewed calmly. That’s the only way the city can make the most sensible decision in the interest of the taxpayers and the community.

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