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Sale preserves land in Pupukea
A deal settles a decades-long fight to protect property from development

By Nelson Daranciang

A prime piece of property on Oahu's North Shore where the owner at one time planned to put an extensive housing development, including a golf course, an equestrian facility and even its own sewage treatment plant, has been sold.

The Trust for Public Land completed the $7.95 million purchase of 1,129 acres of the Pupukea-Paumalu coastal bluff to preserve it permanently for public benefit.

The deed was recorded yesterday, said Lea Hong, Hawaiian Islands Program director for the trust.

The purchase ends a decades-long effort to protect the property, which overlooks many of the North Shore's famous surfing spots, from development.

The trust brokered the purchase with funding commitments from the Army, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, the state, city and private donations to the North Shore Community Land Trust.

The state will eventually own and manage most of the property.


Partners involved with Hawaiian Islands Program Trust for Public Land include Reed Matsuura, left, Larry McElheny, Lea Hong, Laura Figueira, Rep. Michael Magaoay, Donna Woo, Blake McElheny, Col. Howard Killian and Peter Young.

The Pupukea-Paumalu coastal bluffs offer panoramic views of the ocean and Oahu's famous North Shore beaches and surf spots like Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach.

North Shore bluffs escape development

1974: Obayashi Corp., which built the Surfrider Hotel in 1969 and Princess Kaiulani Hotel in 1970, buys land between Pupukea and Paumalu for $7 million with the intention of developing it.
Early 1990s: Obayashi abandons plans for golf courses in the face of community opposition.

1995: City Council approves a zoning change from agricultural to country to accommodate a proposed development of 500 "gentleman farmers" estates called Lihi Lani.

1997: A lawsuit challenging the zoning change by the Save Sunset Beach Coalition and Life of the Land loses in state Circuit Court.

1998: The plaintiffs appeal the ruling to the Hawaii Supreme Court, where it sits for several years.

October 2003: The Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling that said the Council acted within its powers to rezone the bluff for a residential development.

June 2007: A hui of public interest groups, with money from government agencies, buys the 1,129 acres for preservation for $7.95 million.

But it is the majestic views of the bluffs from the beaches that drove the community effort to protect the property from development, said Blake McElheny, North Shore Community Land Trust president.
The trust and other groups committed funds toward the purchase of the property to protect it from development.

And it will take continued community input to help the state decide what to do with the property.

"Without community stakeholder participation, nothing will move forward," McElheny said.

Trust for Public Land Hawaiian Islands Program Director Lea Hong agrees: "As long as it took to get to this point, now the hard work begins."

The public land trust brokered the $7.95-million purchase of the 1,129-acre property using federal, state, city and private money.

The Army contributed $3.34 million from its Compatible Use Buffer Program. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pledged just under $2 million from its Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program.

The state and city each contributed $1 million. And the North Shore trust contributed the rest, thanks in large part to a $600,000 National Park Service conservation grant.

NOAA and the state have yet to release their money, so the public land trust took out a $3 million loan to complete the purchase yesterday, Hong said.

The 25 acres of the parcel below the bluffs along Kamehameha will be conveyed to the city as a nature preserve. The public land trust will eventually convey the remaining 1,104 acres to the state.

"Ultimately it will be used as a state park, at least the majority of it," said Peter Young, state Department of Land and Natural Resources interim deputy director.

Some of the possible uses include passive recreation, like hiking, cultural resource and native plant restoration and environmental education, McElheny said.

He said the property was formerly a ranch and avocado orchard. And former owner Obayashi Corp. found significant cultural resources when it surveyed the land in preparation for development, McElheny said.

Obayashi bought the property in 1974 for $7 million. In the 1990s, it planned a housing development, but community opposition, a change in the economic climate and corporate restructuring put those plans on hold, and in 2002, the company put the property up for sale.

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