Star-Advertiser: Residents vow to fight Dillingham Ranch subdivision

Dillingham Ranch, shown in the red lines, covers 2,700 acres in Mokuleia and includes low-lying lands with equestrian facilities and rugged mountain terrain.

North Shore residents have unleashed a sweeping condemnation of a plan to subdivide Dillingham Ranch for housing while somewhat expanding agriculture on the historic 2,721-acre property in Mokuleia.

The opposition flowed from roughly 350 people at a special North Shore Neighborhood Board meeting Wednesday night to discuss the development plan that was first presented a decade ago and revised three times since then.

Representatives of ranch owner and subdivision proposer Kennedy Wilson Inc., a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based real estate investment and development firm, told the crowd gathered inside a Waialua Community Association wooden gym building Wednesday that the plan for the ranch, which dates to 1897, would benefit the community and deserved support.

Yet community members rejected the suggestion and vowed to fight the $60 million to $80 million project, which would create 70 house lots on land zoned for agriculture.

“This is going to be the death knell to the North Shore,” said Kristin Douglas. “That is immoral. That is wrong. Shame on you.”

Waialua resident James Frisbie chastised Kennedy Wilson for trying to maximize the value of ranch land it bought in 2006 and serving wealthy folks interested in buying house lots that would have to sell for around $1 million or more for the developer to break even. “The rich have enough,” he said. “This project benefits the rich, not the public, not the future.”

Other concerns from residents include Kennedy Wilson inflating the price of farmland, making farming less viable; degrading traffic; and encouraging other developers to pursue similar projects instead of going through a more difficult land rezoning process.

Dave Eadie, a Kennedy Wilson official, and consultant Scott Ezer, with local planning firm HHF Planners, led off the meeting with a presentation and sat through most of the 2-1/2-hour event listening to exclusively negative feedback from about 40 community members who addressed them and often drew applause. Board members also were critical, and voted 13-0 to oppose the plan. And one disgruntled person flipped a table that sent the developer’s computer presentation equipment crashing to the gym floor as the meeting ended.

The meeting followed a presentation to the board by Eadie and Ezer in June before Kennedy Wilson published a draft environmental impact statement in January that describes the subdivision plan in detail. At the June meeting the board held off on taking a position.

Under the plan Kennedy Wilson would sell house lots mainly between 3 and 10 acres each and require buyers to plant fruit trees on 1 to 3 acres of their property within three years. The company said it would give each buyer $9,000 to $20,550 for planting, and anticipates that some buyers will hire orchard managers and perhaps form a commercial cooperative.

Haleiwa woodworking artist Jennifer Homcy ridiculed that notion. “If I had the kind of money to buy a $1.5 million acre lot and build a giant ‘ranchion’ (ranch-style mansion) for myself, do you think I want a bunch of farmers coming to my property every day to farm it?” she said. “Come on!”

Homcy also questioned a part of Kennedy Wilson’s farm plan that would discount initial rents for commercial operators taking over existing Dillingham Ranch equestrian activities, cattle ranching, a mango orchard and palm tree plantation as tenants of a new homeowners association.

Homcy wanted to know how much of a discount would be given and for how long. Neighborhood board member Roberts “Bob” Leinau pointed out that a homeowners association can amend its rules and that the risk of homeowners discontinuing farming is big.

“The guys we’re talking to tonight, when they sell the last lot, they’re out of here,” Leinau said.

Kennedy Wilson’s farm plan is the linchpin to gaining regulatory approval for the project because homes on farmland are allowed only as accessories to agricultural activity under state law. The city Department of Planning and Permitting decides whether to issue subdivision permits, but has to if a viable plan exists for agriculture associated with the lots. Viable isn’t well defined in regulations, but the state Department of Agriculture, which objected to prior versions of Kennedy Wilson’s plan, said the current version complies.

Other parts of the new farm plan include installing irrigation for some cattle pastures, the palm plantation and mango orchard. The developer also would establish a 5-acre hydroponic vegetable farm leased to a farmer at an initial discount while also providing $50,000 a year for 10 years so an instructor can train students from schools that could include Waialua High and Intermediate and the University of Hawaii.

“All in all, I think it’s a supportable plan,” Eadie said. “It’s something that is reasonable.”

Some community members expressed concern about DPP approving the subdivision after the community and the neighborhood board, which is an advisory body, submits comments on the draft environmental report. But others vowed to fight, and suggested that they implore the Legislature to change state law governing farm dwellings, raise money to buy the ranch and find lawyers to contest the project if approved.

“This is going to be another Hokulia,” proclaimed Waialua resident Mike Biechler, referring to a Hawaii island subdivision of homes and a golf course on farmland that included a coffee tree component and ended up in bankruptcy after years of litigation.

Added neighborhood board member Bill Martin, “We need to kill this project.”