Residential development around what was once a more than 200-acre fishpond in Kailua has been controversial since the first homes were built more than 50 years ago in what became Enchanted Lake. Now another planned addition is raising public concerns.
A developer is seeking city permission to build 35 homes on a vacant 5-acre site zoned for residential use near one end of Kaelepulu Pond. But the parcel, according to some project opponents, is a wetland that should be protected from development.
The city has yet to take action on a cluster housing application filed by the developer.
Contentions over the project were lodged at two recent committee meetings of the Kailua Neighborhood Board, which expects to receive a presentation from representatives of the developer at its regular meeting July 2.
At a committee meeting on Tuesday, some area residents expressed fears the project would harm the pond and a nearby wetland bird preserve. A couple of residents claim the developer’s property is a wetland, while others are concerned about traffic impacts and view the project design — 19 single-family homes and eight duplexes — as out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.
“This is very concerning,” Kristi Petosa-Sigel said at the meeting. “The lake is fragile. That’s our home. You have to be very careful.”
Levani Lipton, a neighborhood board member who led last week’s meeting, said she received a lot of email expressing concern about protecting the wetland in relation to the proposing housing project.
Seaborn Mercer, whose home is next to the undeveloped site, said he stands to become neighbors with two duplexes abutting his backyard.
“I’m going to have four families staring into my backyard, which is going to make pool time fabulous,” he said. “This is totally ridiculous. It’s just horrible.”
Hugo De Vries, another neighbor, suggested that a prior owner of the site commissioned a shoddy private survey to show that the property isn’t a wetland, instead of having the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey the site.
Representatives of the developer at the meeting said the Army Corps designated only a roughly 1,000-square-foot corner of the property as wetland.
Homes exist on three sides of the property. A fourth side that includes the corner of certified wetland is bordered by land upon which a home was built by De Vries, who owns and cares for an adjacent 17 acres which include the wetland bird preserve covering 6 acres.
The developer’s representatives said they have revised the project twice in response to comments from the city and area residents, and that the proposed new neighborhood will enhance the surrounding community, the wetland and the lake.
“We really want this to work for the community,” said Benjamin Candari, principal of Honolulu-based FSC Architects, representing the project’s developer, Lacus LLC, managed by Jie Xia. “We don’t want to ruin the wetland or cause any problems.”
As part of the project, a retention pond would be built to collect filtered stormwater runoff from the neighborhood so it doesn’t run into the wetland, and next to the retention pond would be a public park with views of the bird preserve.
Candari added that the planned neighborhood, which wouldn’t be subdivided or gated, isn’t out of character with the community. The R-5 zoning for the property allows one home per 5,000 square feet, or up to 43 homes if no space was used for roadways.
Lacus initially proposed 40 homes but reduced that to 38 and then 35. Of the 35 homes, two would be sold at prices meeting city affordable-housing rules. There also would be 12 guest parking stalls.
Candari told the board committee and others at the meeting that Lacus could build apartment buildings on the site under current zoning.
“We have that option,” he said. “The developer here is not greedy. We want (the project) to blend in with the community.”
Candari and other representatives would describe the developer only as someone involved with hotel development in California. They said the Enchanted Lake project is the first real estate project in Hawaii for this developer.
With residential development in Enchanted Lake, Lacus and Xia are pursuing something that has a long history of contention dating back to when major Hawaii developer Joe Pao filled in parts of a freshwater fishpond along with marshlands used for farming taro, rice and sugar cane to create the subdivision that began taking shape around 1960 and grew to about 3,000 homes.
Some local residents opposed Enchanted Lake and lamented the loss of the fishpond that was dredged, reduced to about 70 acres, surrounded by homes and has had problems with foul water.
In the 1990s a controversial housing addition was made to Enchanted Lake by Jimmy Lee of LECI Properties, who obtained an Army Corps permit to fill part of the lake with 20,000 cubic yards of earth to make 25 house lots along Keolu Drive where a successor to Pao’s company had illegally deposited another 20,000 cubic yards of fill in 1978, a year after federal regulations were enacted to govern the filling of wetlands.
As a tradeoff for that permit, Lee was required to improve the wetland bird habitat and fund a trust to provide for perpetual care for Kaelepulu Wetland Bird Preserve.
After festering problems with water quality and wetland maintenance, De Vries bought the bird preserve and adjacent submerged and dry land for $175,000 in 2004 and built a house across from the property now proposed for 35 homes.
Lacus bought the undeveloped site late last year for $8.6 million from another developer and local real estate broker, Richard Wheelock doing business as Three W Corp. Wheelock bought the property in portions in 2010 and 2011 from members of the family of Richard Jung Hung Wong for about $2 million, according to property records.
If Lacus obtains its permit from the city, the company anticipates starting construction by the middle of next year.