The City and County of Honolulu announced Monday the purchase of 114 acres of the North Shore, saving a sizable chunk of oceanfront land that includes the Kahuku Golf Course from possible development.
The city closed the purchase with owner Continental Pacific LLC on Friday, using $12.1 million from a voter-approved fund earmarked for land conservation.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to keep the land open,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Monday during a news conference on the sandy beach fronting the property. “This is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the whole world.”
The property, bordering the 1,100-acre James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, includes almost a mile of remote shoreline and wild coastal sand dunes. It also protects a surf break known as Seventh Hole.
The stretch of land is home to the only municipal golf course on the North Shore, a nine-hole course the city has operated under a lease agreement since 1937. Some 25,000 rounds of golf are played at the course every year.
Caldwell said the city intends to keep the golf course open and offer upgraded public access to the shoreline.
Councilman Ernie Martin, whose district includes the purchased land, said he’s been pushing for years to acquire the property.
“It’s a hidden gem,” he said.
Martin said the acquisition will not only preserve the scenic beauty of the area, but provide protection for migratory seabirds, turtles and seals.
“The environmental, recreational and economic benefits of acquiring this property are immeasurable,” he said.
Continental Pacific previously announced plans to close the golf course and develop luxury homes on the shoreline.
Negotiations for purchase of the land continued on and off for more than two years, according to Ray Soon, the mayor’s chief of staff, who led the negotiations.
“We had some reasonable disagreements,” he said. “It went back and forth at one point. We stopped negotiating. We thought it was dead. They came back to us, saying they really wanted to protect this area as well. We found common ground and we found a reasonable settlement.”
At one point the City Council set aside $13.8 million for the purchase, Soon said, so ultimately it was a good deal, especially considering an additional 20-acre parcel was thrown in to better connect the property to the neighboring wildlife refuge.
“It was a fair price we paid,” Caldwell added. “If you look at it long term, absolutely it was a bargain. There is only so much shoreline property on this island. There’s only so much with an incredibly beautiful beach like this on the island. The values are just going to continue to go up.”
Lex Smith, an attorney who represents Florida-based Continental Pacific, said the company’s latest development plan included subdividing the golf course and creating six luxury beachfront homes.
Smith said the transaction was a reasonable deal.
“If Continental Pacific had followed through with their plan, it would have made more money (than the
$12.1 million),” he said.
Approved by Honolulu voters in 2006, the Clean Water and Natural Lands fund was a charter initiative that set aside a half-percent of real property tax revenue for land conservation purposes.
The City Council appoints nine members to the Clean Water and Natural Lands Commission, which evaluates properties targeted for acquisition.
Officials said this is the largest transaction since the fund was established in 2006.
“We have gone a long way working with the county to ensure these beautiful lands are preserved forever,” Caldwell said.
Guy Kaulukukui, director of the city’s Department of Enterprise Services, said it’s gratifying to know that the golf course will continue for the golfing public into the future.
He described Kahuku as the only truly links-style golf course in Hawaii.
“It’s our St. Andrews,” Kaulukukui said, referring to the classic golf course in Scotland. “It’s rustic and beautiful in its own way.”
With million-dollar views, the remote course offers the least expensive golfing on the island at $1 per hole for residents and less than $2 per hole for visitors ($16). However, there are no golf carts, the restrooms are portable and the clubhouse is little more than a dilapidated shack.
“It’s more rusty than rustic,” Kaulukukui said.
He said now that the city has ownership, officials can look at ways to reinvest in the course and make some upgrades.
Caldwell said the course for now will be preserved for golf, but it could easily be transformed into a passive park in the future.
On the beach, the mayor pointed to the sand dunes and said they are part of an ecosystem that was here for thousands of years.
“There were dunes like this all along this side of the island,” he said. “They’ve been basically bulldozed and used for development, or they’ve eroded into the sea because of sea walls and roads that have been built. Here they will be protected.”
Martin said he would like to see the fund also be used to save a sizable portion of the undeveloped property across from Malaekahana Beach Park nearby.