Caught in a trap.
One of its residents calls Kilauea "a very schizophrenic community." The small North Shore town - home to retired plantation workers, mainland refugees and Hollywood celebrities - is in the midst of a battle with a familiar opponent in Hawaii: a Japanese developer who wants to build a golf course on 204 acres of agricultural land along Prince Kuhio Highway. The project was approved by both the Kauai planning commission and the state Land Use Commission. But some residents have turned to legal retaliation, saying the golf course will irreparably damage Kilauea by bringing tourism into a rural community protected from resort development by the county's general plan. "The commissioners imposed their wills against the will of the community," says Ken Martin, a farmer who moved to Kilauea from Oahu in 1969. "The bottom line is: Do residents of a rural community have rights to self-determination?"
The question is a sobering one, but these days it has larger reverberations than Martin might have imagined. The battle over the golf course has touched off an internal skirmish - waged among the residents themselves - about just what sort of town Kilauea is. "To say this is still a quaint rural community is not strictly true," says Mike Dyer, a local Realtor and native of Michigan who moved to Kauai in 1971. "Kilauea is a town that's been in transition, from an ag community to a mixed community. The predominant use in the ag district right now is large residential country estates."
Clinton Shiraishi, the influential Kauai attorney and former state senator who shepherded the golf course application through the approval process, has his own view of the controversy. "I think the silent majority (in Kilauea) is in favor of this golf course," he says. "Most of these opponents are newcomers. They're the well-to-do who move in, draw up the bridge and close the gate and say, |Hey, we don't want anybody else coming here.'"
Shiraishi's remarks point to the central irony of this particular golf course debate. Although opponents of the project say they are waging their war to protect Kilauea, not everyone in Kilauea agrees that the golf course will harm the town. Their conflict is one example of the struggle going on in several communities statewide, as residents seek to preserve the values that attracted outsiders while confronting the development pressures that often accompany the new neighbors.
Whose land is it, anyway? The winds of change first blew through Kilauea in 1971, when C. Brewer & Co. Ltd. shut the doors of the Kilauea Sugar Co., a 92-year-old operation that had employed almost all of the town's working residents. At that time, Kilauea's population had slipped to about 250 people, and its future looked bleak. "When I came here in 1971, the plan was for this town to disappear," says Dyer, a former property manager for Kilauea Plantations, the C. Brewer-American Hawaiian Steamship Co. joint venture formed to sell off the plantation acreage. What saved Kilauea, in part, was the development of the nearby Princeville resort in the early |70s. With the eventual transformation of the plantation lands into moderately priced lots, Kilauea became a bedroom community for the workers recruited to staff the resort.
With the new blood, Kilauea not only survived, it prospered. Former residents of Oahu and the mainland contributed to the town's rapid growth, expanding its population from 894 residents in 1979 to more than 1,600 ten years later. The town also developed its own small area of tourist attractions. In addition to a historic lighthouse and a national wildlife refuge that attract thousands of visitors annually, Kilauea now is home to a chic visitor complex containing a restored plantation store turned into an upscale gift-and-clothing shop, an Italian restaurant, a theater, an art gallery and a bakery.
But the renewed interest in Kilauea has come at a price. Along with former city dwellers craving the small-town life, the area's lush countryside has attracted the well-to-do with a hankering for a tropical hideaway. Nearby landowners now include entertainer Bette Midler, film star Sylvester Stallone and retired basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Kilauea natives speak in tones of awe about secluded $3-million properties with fancy home-security systems, and in tones of despair about rising real estate prices and property taxes. A 6,000-square-foot lot that sold for $7,500 in 1976 now will sell for some $90,000, according to T. Jack Bennington, the area's major developer. Alan Kimura, a 33-year-old maintenance man for Princeville Corp., estimates property taxes on his 8,900-square-foot lot in Kilauea have risen a total of 83 percent in the past three years. "I'm paying outrageous taxes," says Kimura, a Kilauea native. "I may be forced to sell this house that took me more than two years to build."
The addition of the golf course in Kilauea, opponents say, will dramatically multiply the development pressures already squeezing longtime residents. They are most apprehensive that the golf course will open the door to other types of resort projects, such as condominiums, and to upscale properties such as exclusive, "golf-course-view" homes. As the argument goes, this new development will cause property taxes on nearby lots to rise even further, forcing residents into a difficult search for housing elsewhere. Says longtime resident Haunani Pacheco, "Our concern is with the surrounding parcels and the pressures that the golf course will put on them to be developed into housing, or hotels, or condominiums."
Golf course opponents also argue that the golf course is a type of resort development in a town specifically protected from resort development by the county general plan and the North Shore development plan. In addition, they say, because Kilauea is an agricultural community, the lands should be reserved for agricultural uses. "Princeville was supposed to be the resort area," says Pacheco. "They were supposed to leave Kilauea alone."
Perhaps most important to the golf course opponents is their concern that the golf course, and any future resort-related projects, will destroy the sense of community that drew many residents here. "The kind of development this golf course is going to bring is not rural, blue-collar community development," says Beryl Blaich, a past president of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association who moved from Oahu 10 years ago with her husband Gary, a psychiatrist, and their daughter. "You'll get people who need shopping facilities, so they don't have to drive into town. They'll need the drycleaners right there. They'll need more and more things because that's their lifestyle. But we are 1,600 people who have said, |I want an alternative to that. I'm willing to put up with inconveniences because I want this more casual, less urbanized, less tourist-influenced environment.'"
In the interests of preserving the Kilauea they know, several members of the KNA have led the fight against the golf course. Bradford Dewan, the group's lawyer, believes the legal battle over the golf course will have ramifications extending far beyond Kilauea. "It's really a key case for how this state is going to deal with the issue of tourism," says Dewan, who moved to Kauai from San Jose, California, in September 1988 and who took on the case at a reduced rate because of his own strong feelings against the project. "Here's a community that really wanted to preserve its rural nature," says Dewan. "The county has planning documents that say this community is to be preserved that way. And here we are approving a resort-type development that clearly only services the tourism industry."
Long time gone. For those Kilaueans who do not object to the golf course, however, the issues are not as clearcut. First of all, they suggest, golf course opponents are trying to preserve a way of life that exists only in their imaginations. Says 75-year-old Nobu Tamura, a lifelong Kauai resident and former sugar plantation worker who supports the golf course, "The spirit of the community, living like the old days, is not here anymore already." But what Tamura and some other Kilaueans object to even more is the KNA's position that is speaks for all of the townspeople. "The neighborhood association is composed mostly of these newcomers, and very few old-timers," says Tamura. Adds the 68-year-old Bennington, a longtime associate of Dyer in the sale of the sugar lands and other real estate ventures, "The KNA only comprises 25 percent of the total registered voters in Kilauea. The people born and raised here, the old-timers, resent the KNA and feel they are a minority. I don't see how they can continue a lawsuit (against the golf course) in the name of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association."
Those who support the golf course also believe that it is not the worst use of the land. They say that some agricultural activities, such as a piggery or a dairy, would be far worse. They also cite concessions by the developer, such as donating two acres from the 204-acre parcel for a bypass road and another 22 acres that can be used for a much-needed intermediate school, as important benefits for Kilauea. In addition, supporters say, the golf course will act as a green "buffer zone" that, given the inevitable development in the area, residents should be grateful for. "I personally can't see a better use for the land, because it gives us a green belt," says Bennington.
Dyer is convinced that blocking the golf course will not halt property tax hikes and land price increases. "Property taxes are going to rise anyway, whether this golf course gets built or not," he says. "They're rising like crazy now, and there's no golf course out there." Tamura is even harsher in his remarks. "One of the reasons the taxes are so high here," he says, "is because they (new residents) came to live over here. They are the ones who raised the taxes by building big homes."
As Dyer sees it, the golf course is but a symbol of the changes that are bound to come to Kilauea - changes caused partly by the influx of outsiders and partly by the economic transformation of Kauai from an agricultural to a tourism-based economy. "The golf course is just a symptom of the fact that there's much more demand for golf right now than there is for papayas," says Dyer. "Kilauea is not going to turn into a resort, in my opinion, but it certainly could turn into a much larger urban area."
Battling Goliath. If they had their way, opponents of the golf course would prefer to see the 204-acre parcel used for agriculture, or even moderately priced housing. But they face a formidable opponent in Shiraishi, who represents former landowner Kane Enterprises and golf course developer FBD Enterprises USA Inc., which purchased the parcel from Kane Enterprises in 1989 for an undisclosed amount. Shiraishi, 68, says he came out of retirement to handle what he assumed would be a welcome addition to the Kilauea community. "I expected everyone to be in favor of this nice golf course," he says.
Shiraishi is well aware that golf course development is a sensitive issue throughout the state, as developers gaze longingly at Hawaii's agricultural lands and see them transformed into manicured lawns the color of money. But he says the concerns raised about golf course development elsewhere in Hawaii do not apply in Kilauea. In other cases, he says, the land had actually been used for farming, and tenants were forced off. In Kilauea, the land has been lying fallow for nearly 20 years, ever since the sale of the property to Oklahoma-based Foster Petroleum Corp., which is owned by the same family that owns Kane Enterprises. Shiraishi also dismisses KNA's argument that a golf course does not belong in Kilauea. "We felt it was not a high-intensity use," he says. "It's primarily a daytime sport, and the number of people playing at any one time is small. There would not be any significant traffic impact, and the neighbors would not be adversely affected."
Those arguments do not sit well with golf course opponents, who note - among their other responses - that the developer's plans currently call for a 35,000-square-foot clubhouse that could be used for a variety of evening functions. Even more upsetting to them is the way the application was approved by the county planning commission in September and the state Land Use Commission in March. Charges of cronyism have been leveled - or at least muttered - by residents who believe the two commissions failed to act with the interests of the people at heart. Shiraishi scoffs at such statements, saying, "That is crybaby talk." Says Shiraishi, "What makes them think the planning commission and the Land Use Commission did not act in the best interest of the residents? I got a lot of calls from local guys in Kilauea telling me, |I want this golf course.'" But Gary Pacheco, a lifelong Kilauea resident, believes otherwise. "It seemed like when we talked to the commissioners, they said, |Yeah, yeah, yeah,' but they had already made up their minds," says Pacheco.
KNA attorney Dewan believes the county commissioners who approved the application were heavily influenced by Shiraishi's involvement with the project. Commission chairman Arthur Fujita, in fact, has been a business partner with Shiraishi in a Big Island real estate project, and he was cleared to vote on the Kilauea golf course proposal only after the Kauai County ethics board ruled there was no conflict of interest. "Mr. Shiraishi has a very high reputation in the community, and an enormous amount of political weight," says Dewan. "It looked to me as if they were going to be very uncomfortable voting against him because of the longtime relationships they obviously had with him."
During the county approval process, the KNA was initially encouraged because the county planning department - which advises the planning commission - recommended against approval of the application. Tom Shigemoto, who at the time was county planning director, said his department favored preservation of the prime parcel for agriculture uses. Planners also were influenced by the community opposition to the project, and by the recommendations of the county general plan and the North Shore development plan, which call for Kilauea to remain as a "bedroom community" protected from resort development.
Equally high on the department's list of concerns was the inadequacy of the application as compared with other applications for golf courses on Kauai. Before the September 28 vote on the application, county planner Michael Laureta told the commission that the proposal lacked several studies, including those on economic feasibility, noise, air quality, and housing and population impacts. "If this commission approves the project as is with the lack of these studies, the entire state is going to want to know how we arrived at the decision," said Laureta.
Nevertheless, the commission - made up of two commissioners appointed by Mayor JoAnn Yukimura and five commissioners appointed by former Mayor Tony Kunimura - voted four to three to approve the application, following a lengthy and impassioned monologue by Fujita attacking opposition to the golf course. The approval was contingent on the developer meeting a long list of conditions, an action that led Commissioner Barbara Robeson (a Yukimura appointee who voted against the application) to note that the county's criteria for approving the application do not provide for the inclusion of such conditions. The commission's vote prompted the KNA to file a court appeal charging the application should not have been approved because it was inadequate.
To the golf course opponents, the planning commission vote was depressingly predictable. But the two votes of the Land Use Commission each came as something of a shock. At a March 14 meeting, the LUC voted 7 to 2 to turn down the golf course application - an action that amazed KNA representatives. The amazement, however, was short-lived. Two weeks later, on March 29, the two sides again appeared before the state commission, because attorney Shiraishi had filed a request for reconsideration. Dewan, who was on a mainland trip, believed that the LUC would rule then only on whether to reconsider the application. Instead, the commissioners took a second vote on the project, arguing they had to do so to comply witha 45-day time limit for acting on applications.
Blaich, the only KNA representative present, argued that the vote should not take place because, moments before the meeting convened, Shiraishi had presented the commissioners and the KNA with a list of concessions from the developer that substantially changed the application. These included the donation of land that could be used for a post office and a bypass road, 22 acres for a school site, and an increase in the percentage of local golfers allowed to play at reduced rates. In spite of Blaichi's objections, however, the commissioners voted 7-0 to approve the revised package.
LUC Chairman Renton Nip had previously voted against the application, saying he could not see how the golf course would benefit the community, the county or the state. In addition, said Nip at the March 14 session, the golf course raised the asyet-unanswered question of Kilauea's identity. "I don't think there's any unanimity as to what Kilauea is or should be in the future," said Nip. "It's clear that (the golf course) is a resort-type course not in a resort area, and that will have impacts." Before voting to approve the course at the March 29 meeting, Nip explained his change of heart by saying that the additional concessions made him look at the application in a new light. "It is a balancing process," said Nip. "(But) I think overall this works to the benefit of everyone. It seems to me in this instance, where we basically allow open space and where there's significant benefit provided to the county, on balance it's good for everyone."
Dewan, however, was outraged by the LUC's action. He thinks the commission used the excuse of the 45-day rule to hurry the second vote through, when it had already met the rule's requirements in its March 14 vote. "They abused the rule, totally forgetting that they had already complied with it, and as a result their reversal stinks," he says. "The decision was not made on the merits of the application. Some kind of backroom politics took place," he charges.
A town divided. On April 30, the KNA held an all-day vote for residents of Kilauea, to determine whether to proceed with legal action against the golf course. Of the town's 720 registered voters, 412 cast ballots in the election, voting 236 to 176 (57 to 43 percent) to continue with the case. Beryl Blaich sees the public sentiment as an expression not only of the desire to protect Kilauea from too much growth, but also of a mounting disgust with the means by which planning decisions are made. "I think this story is about the kind of despair that comes over people when a community is growing so fast and the planning process isn't being adhered to," she says. "One of the reasons some residents support the golf course is that, with all this prime ag land around us, they think anything else would be worse."
If they decided to divide into teams, the two groups of residents in the Kilauea golf course controversy might be labeled "The Idealists" and "The Pragmatists." Says Bennington, who would shirt up for the Pragmatists, "It's always bad government when it goes against you. I look at it more realistically: It's private property. By law they're entitled to do some things with it." Mike Dyer, another Pragmatist, has no fear when he contemplates the future of his town. "I don't think Kilauea is ever going to be a resort community, in spite of the fears that the golf course may generate," says Dyer. "It's a residential community that will continue to grow until the urban area is used up, in about 30 years. At the time the population will stabilize at about 5,000 people. Hopefully we'll have a nice school, and a golf course on the west side. We'll still have expensive big estates on the fringes. And hopefully, when we get rid of the fruit flies, the farms will prosper."
Blaich, a star player for the Idealists, has trouble accepting the game rules of the opposing team. On her playing field, those holding private land still have a responsibility to the community that surrounds them - a responsibility that should be enforced rather than ignored by public officials. "People have purchased vast quantities of ag land purely to wait for the time when it could be developed into something else," she says. "But most of us in Kilauea didn't buy land just to pass it on to the next guy. It would be possible to take those 204 acres and do something to address a lot of community needs, but these things don't happen without tremendous government review.
"Of course we realize the town is going to grow," she adds. "The questions are how fast is it going to grow, and who's going to be able to remain here?"
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|Title Annotation:||residents of Kilauea, Kauai, Hawaii in dispute over plan to build golf course in their community|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1990|
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