Rail board votes to take First Hawaiian property
Honolulu’s rail agency has started the process to acquire a First Hawaiian Bank-owned facility next to Kalihi Stream via eminent domain.
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Honolulu’s rail agency has started the process to acquire a First Hawaiian Bank-owned facility next to Kalihi Stream via eminent domain. The property, described as a secure data center, is needed to build the transit line and station near Middle Street, project officials say.
At its general meeting Thursday, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board voted 7-0 to approve a resolution to purchase more than 46,000 square feet from First Hawaiian’s Kamehameha Highway facility through condemnation, several blocks Ewa of Dillingham Boulevard.
The rail agency remains in “good-faith negotiations” with First Hawaiian, however, to try to avoid taking that action, HART Executive Director Krishniah Murthy told the board Thursday.
Board member Colbert Matsumoto recused himself from the vote, saying he owned stock in First Hawaiian. Five other board members noted that they had either checking accounts, savings accounts or both with Hawaii’s largest bank — but that they had determined it wasn’t a conflict. Board member John Henry Felix was absent Thursday.
In a statement emailed Thursday, the bank indicated that it was caught off guard by the board’s move.
“We were surprised by this action as we have been working diligently with HART,” the statement read. “We hope to continue to work towards a mutually agreeable resolution.”
Records show that the rail agency offered nearly $1.9 million to First Hawaiian in March to take the property based on a December appraisal. HART Planning, Permitting and Right-of-Way Director Abbey Mayer told the board that the agency had not gotten a response from the bank as of the meeting.
HART would have to seek the City Council’s approval by June 4 to keep the eminent domain process going, according to a presentation to the board.
In recent years the rail board has initiated eminent domain proceedings against approximately 40-45 property owners along the rail line, including the Blood Bank of Hawaii, even as HART has continued to negotiate with those owners. Rail officials say the maneuver is necessary to ensure that construction can proceed if talks with the owners collapse.
Of those eminent domain proceedings for rail, seven cases have advanced to court, according to HART spokesman Bill Brennan. The city has acquired only part of one property at Stuart Plaza at 945 Kamehameha Highway in Pearl City via condemnation, he added.
Last year, as HART restarted the condemnation process against the blood bank, Blood Bank of Hawaii’s lawyer, Robert Thomas, told the board that such a move would lead to “negotiations under a hammer.”
Other owners facing eminent domain along Waiwai Loop, an industrial area near Keehi Lagoon, have said that HART’s offers for partial stretches along the front of their properties don’t reflect the full damage done to businesses there.
Also at Thursday’s HART meeting, board member William “Buzz” Hong announced that he’ll soon step down from the board in order to join the Honolulu Fire Commission. Hong has served on the HART board since its 2011 inception. With his departure, Damien Kim, the board’s current chairman, will be the only original board member remaining.