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Koa Ridge finally reaches building stage

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    Castle & Cooke broke ground Thursday on a planned 3,500-home community in an area between Mililani and Waipio, where a Dole Food Co. pineapple plantation once stood (Castle & Cooke is a Dole sister company). David Murdock, Castle & Cooke’s billionaire owner, participated in the groundbreaking event. Murdock, center, was congratulated by Gov. David Ige, left. At right is Mayor Kirk Caldwell.


That word was used several times during a ceremony Thursday in Central Oahu where it has taken developer Castle &Cooke Hawaii nearly 20 years to move from planning to building a residential community called Koa Ridge.

David Murdock, the company’s 94-year-old billionaire owner who attended the blessing and groundbreaking at the site for the 3,500-home project, was 75 when conceptual work on Koa Ridge began.

“I think that you will all be impressed by the things that we do here,” said Murdock, who leads the development firm at its California-based parent company Castle &Cooke Inc. and flew to Oahu on his private jet for the event.

The ceremony was held under a white tent on part of a concrete slab where a pineapple packing station once operated as part of Dole Food Co.’s pineapple plantation between Mililani and Waipio.

Castle &Cooke, a Dole sister company, had immense difficulty getting approval from the state Land Use Commission to reclassify its farmland for urban use. The company went through the process three times between 2000 and 2012, and won the second of two Hawaii Supreme Court challenges last year that cleared the way to obtain other permits and start construction.

Gov. David Ige, who attended Thursday’s ceremony, said his youngest son, Matthew, was in preschool when Koa Ridge planning got started.

“So, where’s my son now?” Ige posed. “My son Matthew graduated from college and started working for Microsoft about two weeks ago.”

Ashley Ferreira, the daughter of Castle &Cooke employees, was in fifth grade when she testified at the first state land-use hearing on Koa Ridge. Then she did the same two more times as a ninth-grader and as an 11th-grader.

“It has been truly amazing to be part of this journey and to finally see this come to fruition,” said Ferreira, who graduated from Northern Arizona University in May and moved home where she works for Pacific Rim Mortgage.

Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell both thanked Castle &Cooke officials for their perseverance over Koa Ridge, a $2 billion project expected to produce its first finished homes in mid-2019 and take about 10 years to build out with all the residences as well as stores, restaurants, a hotel, a hospital, parks, an elementary school and a light industrial park. About 1,050 homes will be affordable to moderate-income households under an agreement with the city.

Harry Saunders, president of Castle &Cooke Hawaii, thanked everyone at the company who worked on the project, which early on was envisioned largely as a retirement community with homes, a medical technology park, a sports medicine complex, a medical hotel and possibly a medical school.

“Many of them have been at this 20 years like me,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for so long.”

Richard Poirier, who opposed Koa Ridge at LUC hearings over issues including traffic impacts, also attended the ceremony. “We did everything we could,” said the chairman of the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Neighborhood Board. “It was nothing personal.”

The Sierra Club of Hawaii, which stopped Koa Ridge twice in court but lost a third legal challenge, issued a statement Thursday expressing disappointment over construction starting and vowing to continue work to protect farmland from suburbanization.

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