New & Noteworthy: `Aina Le`a Lawsuit, Aha Moku Rift

posted in: June 2015, New & Noteworthy | 0

Warring `Aina Le`a Factions: The developer that began building the townhouses on the stalled `Aina Le`a project in South Kohala has sued the company that owns most of the land where the full build-out is to take place.

The lawsuit was filed on April 24 by DW `Aina Le`a Development, LLC, and RELCO Corp., manager of the LLC. It alleges that Bridge `Aina Le`a, LLC, the principal landowner, welshed on a promise to sell DW some 2,500 acres that make up the remainder of the area that, since 1989, has been the site of on-again, off-again development plans.

In December 2009, a subsidiary of DW `Aina Le`a Development – `Aina Le`a, LLC – took title to about 38 acres of the promised land. This is the lot where DW had begun building 385 townhouses intended to fulfill the requirement of affordable housing imposed by the state Land Use Commission.

The LUC later determined that the developer had not met the deadline for completing the affordable housing portion of the project and other conditions, and rescinded the Urban land use classification, putting all the property back into the state Agriculture district where the anticipated residential and commercial construction could no longer take place.

That decision is still being litigated. Despite delays associated with the litigation, DW `Aina Le`a claims that it never surrendered its rights under the purchase and sale agreement.

Bridge, however, apparently thinks otherwise and “is now demanding new terms and conditions to close,” the complaint states. “For this reason, plaintiffs seek judicial intervention to compel specific performance on the part of defendant to close on the remaining residential lots.”

Aha Moku Divisions: For about a decade, the Aha Moku Advisory Committee (formerly Aha Kiole) has had extremely close ties with the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. Wespac supported it financially and with staff long before the state became involved – involvement that was done at the urging of Wespac.

A major bone of contention has been the proposal floated last summer by the federal Department of Interior to establish government-to-government relations with a native Hawaiian government. While AMAC executive director (and former Wespac contractor) Leimana DaMate submitted testimony on behalf of the AMAC in strong support of the proposal, several AMAC members disagreed, including Michelle Ho`opi`i, of Wailuku.

In response to Ho`opi`i’s objections to her testimony, DaMate wrote: “You are correct in that not all of the moku were notified of the AMAC response [to the Interior proposal]. … However, there were a lot of correspondence and phone calls from moku people from the different islands asking for us to send a letter of support. This was because they felt they could not testify in person because the independence people overwhelmed them at the different hearings.”

In December, AMAC submitted its annual report to the Legislature, prompting Wespac employee Charles Ka`ai`ai to ask an AMAC member whether DaMate had run the report by the full committee. “This is the first I have heard of this,” the committee member informed Ka`ai`ai.

Ka`ai`ai replied, “I don’t know how she could give this report without approval of the committee.”

That same month, DaMate and her allies supported a subsistence fishing plan for Ha`ena, Kaua`i, while AMAC member Makani Christensen opposed it. (See our February 2015 “Board Talk” column for details.)

The extent of the rift became apparent most recently in March, in testimony before the state Senate Committees on Hawaiian Affairs and Water and Land.

DaMate, testifying on behalf of AMAC, supported Senate Resolution 24, which asked that the AMAC engage stakeholders in the process of developing rules.

Ka`ai`ai also favored the resolution, but went on to use the occasion of the hearing to denounce DaMate. “Island Moku Councils have been battling” with the committee chair and the executive director, who, he went on to say, “have continually erected barriers to accessing the island representatives.

“The ED undermined the Island Councils and supported the development of other councils to obfuscate and hide the actions and requests of the island Aha Moku Councils. The ED has used her interpretation of the Sunshine law to prevent island councils from meeting. … The integrity and veracity of the AMAC and their ED is in question.”

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