A owner of a Canadian thrill-ride company wants to build an aerial tramway and a zip line in the hills above Waialua as part of an “agribusiness” on land zoned for agriculture.
Joey Houssian of The
Adventure Group in Whistler, British Columbia, recently asked the city to approve the plan as a conditional use on 2,320 acres of land previously owned by Dole Food Co.
Houssian said his project would lead to native tree reforestation, expand cattle ranching, add crop farming and provide educational, cultural and recreational uses on the site.
“My only intent is not zip lines,” he said. “If we never had zip lines on the property, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings. I’m interested in conserving this land by inviting people into it. I feel people have become quite disconnected from their
environment, from nature. I like to connect people with wild places, wild spaces.”
The city Department of Planning and Permitting last month rejected Houssian’s October application for a conditional use permit, saying it lacked sufficient detail. Among things DPP requested were a timetable for implementing ranching and farming plans, the number of gondolas that would be on the aerial tramway and photo simulations of the tramway system and zip line.
DPP also suggested that an environmental assessment might be necessary for the project, dubbed
Houssian said many details weren’t on his application because he wanted to get an idea of whether such recreational use would be permissible before producing more refined plans.
“We don’t know what we’re allowed to do yet,” he said. “This is something that we want to be very thoughtful about. I’m only interested in doing this right.”
Houssian is working on more detailed plans and intends to resubmit his application.
Under city land-use regulations, recreational activities can be allowed on agriculture land as accessories to primary agriculture operations.
Besides the aerial tramway and zip line, other recreation in Houssian’s plan includes hiking, biking and ATV tours — all described as a way for visitors to explore the agricultural lands.
Houssian’s proposed gondola system is about 1.75 miles long, running from a point just off Kaukonahua Road, over a gulch and up about 1,000 feet. This system, according to the permit application, would be used to transport agricultural equipment and materials as well as take customers up to ride a roughly 1.5-mile zip line running down to a midlevel gondola stop above the gulch.
The application, prepared for Houssian by local planning firm PBR Hawaii, estimates that facilities served by 500 parking
stalls could easily manage 5,000 people a day, though fewer are expected.
Houssian said this figure just estimates the maximum capacity of the land. A better estimate of visitation, he said, would be fewer than 2,500 people daily, though that’s only a guess because it’s not known what activities would be allowed.
The application estimated that agriculture and visitor attractions would employ 50 to 150 people.
Proposed operating hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“The planned improvements will offer a destination for locals and visitors alike to access locally grown produce, practice cultural traditions and explore the natural landscape in a way that preserves its beauty and promotes education and interaction with a native Hawaiian landscape,” the application said. “The proposed uses offer a unique project for the region, layering agricultural tourism with the primary agricultural uses and enhancing public access to the land.”
Houssian said that under his plan agriculture operations on the site would increase from about 40 cattle and no crop farming today to more than 140 cattle and 57 acres of crops including cacao, ulu, taro and sugar cane. Additionally, the plan would restore at least 20 acres a year of forest.
The University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources has a year-to-year lease on 12 acres for crop research in an area Houssian intends to use as a main “agribusiness center” next to the gondola’s base.
UH officials and Houssian have discussed opportunities for a long-term lease and creating a partnership for educational agritourism. However, those discussions were preliminary, and it’s possible UH could be displaced. “(It’s too) early to tell if we would be involved and if we ultimately are involved, what that would look like,” UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said in an email.
The parcel leased to
UH is part of 199 acres that Houssian has an option to buy from Kaukonahua Ho‘ola LLC, a Kailua-based firm that bought the site from Dole in 2012 for
Houssian formed Kaukonahua Ranch LLC to buy the other 2,121 acres from Dole last year for $3.5 million.
In Canada, Houssian runs The Adventure Group, which offers zip lines, bungee jumping, ATV tours, whitewater rafting, rope courses, ax throwing, snowmobile tours and showshoe tours in Whistler.
Hawaii government agencies have generally allowed zip lines, ATV tours and other recreational activities on agriculture land as accessories to farming, with some operators claiming that income from rides helps sustain agriculture.
In 2014 DPP approved seven pairs of zip lines accessed by ATVs on 453 acres zoned for agriculture in Kahuku for a company doing business as Keana Farms.
Kualoa Ranch on Oahu also operates zip line and ATV tours. Several similar farm-based operations exist on the neighbor islands.
The state Department of Agriculture has not yet been asked by DPP to comment on Houssian’s plan
because the application wasn’t complete. Janelle
Saneishi, department spokeswoman, said it would be premature to comment on what Houssian has submitted so far. “We wouldn’t comment on an incomplete application,” she said.