Plans to establish an industrial park in Nanakuli were derailed Thursday when the project’s developer failed to win enough state Land Use Commission votes to change the zoning.
The land, once used to grow sugar cane, is now zoned for preservation.
The 96-acre project in Lualualei Valley had drawn some opposition for furthering conversion of farmland in the area but also had won praise for its promise to create jobs and business opportunities in an economically disadvantaged region.
The commission voted 5-3 to urbanize the land for the industrial park proposed by Tropic Land LLC, but six affirmative votes were necessary for approval. One commissioner was absent.
"We were so damn close," said Tropic Land’s project manager, Arick Yanagihara. "We were shocked about the outcome."
Under commission rules the property owner may not amend or seek a new approval for at least a year.
Yanagihara said Tropic Land will have to study what options it might have to resurrect the project.
Opponents of the industrial park plan were relieved by the vote. Opponents had testified that the project would spoil a culturally sensitive site and negatively alter the character of a still largely rural community of farm lots and homes.
"We support maintaining Waianae as a rural community and agricultural center for Oahu," the nonprofit environmental and native Hawaiian group KAHEA said in petition drive materials against the project. "We can say NO to new potential toxic sites, and NO to further loss of agricultural lands in Waianae."
One group with about 100 members, going by the name Concerned Elders of Waianae, challenged the project at commission hearings, introducing expert witnesses who testified against industrial use of the site. The group said the area shouldn’t be developed because it is culturally sensitive.
Tropic Land presented its own cultural expert who testified that the property was a "wasteland" with no cultural value.
Tropic Land further contended that its property is poorly suited for agriculture because of mostly low-grade soil and a lack of affordable irrigation water. The developer also said much of Lualualei Valley has an industrial character stemming from a construction landfill, a recycling facility on the site of a former cement plant and a U.S. Navy magazine and radio facility.
The Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board voted unanimously to support the project, and a draft version of the Waianae Sustainable Communities plan from the city Department of Planning and Permitting designated industry as an alternative use for the site.
Land Use Commission members generally appeared to support Tropic Land’s proposed industrial use of the property, but a couple of commissioners expressed reluctance to vote for urbanization because of a key unresolved issue: road access.
Tropic Land intended to use Lualualei Naval Access Road for primary site access. The Navy, which owns the road, expressed willingness to provide a long-term easement for access but had made no binding agreement for such use.
The Navy allows a few private owners use of the road, but had previously denied access to the former owner of the Tropic Land property. Legal access to Tropic Land’s property is along the more rural Hakimo Road.
Commissioner Charles Jencks said it made no sense to urbanize the property for industrial use and traffic if appropriate road access hadn’t been established. Commissioner Normand Lezy expressed similar concern. The other dissenting vote to urbanize the property came from Ronald Heller.
Tropic Land’s plan was to create about 40 lots averaging two acres each for sale to business users. Tropic Land estimated it would spend $29 million to grade and install infrastructure for the project it dubbed Nanakuli Community Baseyard. The company would have limited development to 96 acres of 236 acres it owns in the valley.
Tropic Land bought the 236 acres in 2005 for $3 million, according to property records. The prior owner was a Japan-based firm, Kabushiki Kaisha Oban, which bought the land in 1987 and pursued development of a golf course.
Oban received a zoning change from agricultural use to preservation use from the City Council in 1996 allowing development of an 18-hole golf course. But the golf course was never built.
Prior to Oban’s purchase, the history of uses on the land included sugar cane grown by Waianae Sugar Co., which shut down in 1946. There had been some limited cattle grazing on the site.
The most recent farming was growing truck crops on 15 acres in the 1980s. That farmer was paid by Oban to relocate, and the land has since been largely vacant and unused.