Residents fight for ‘true agricultural use’

In spite of opposition, the Kaua‘i County Planning Commission approved a revision of a condition to support agricultural use within the 2,021-acre “Kealiakealanani” agricultural subdivision at Kealia Tuesday.

A handful of critics attending the commission’s Subdivision Committee meeting at the Lihu‘e Civic Center said they wanted a previously approved condition to stand — that Plantation Partners obtain a declaratory ruling from the state Land Use Commission to ensure compliance with a state law requiring true agricultural uses on agricultural lands.

The commission’s subdivision committee set that condition when it gave preliminary approval for certain phases of the project last year.

The critics objected to a change the planning department recommended, that the commission’s subdivision committee approved, that would instead require the county agency to submit the developer’s application, and a detailed agricultural master and market plan to the LUC for review and possible comment.

The change would not force the developer to comply with the law and protect agricultural uses, critic Rayne Regush and others said.

County officials disagree, saying both the LUC and its staff would review documentation on the projects.

But Regush said the LUC oversight is the enforcement teeth that is needed to ensure the developers comply with the law protecting agricultural lands.

“This tea bag setup is basically a commercial, residential project,” said critic Elaine Dunbar, referring to plans by the developers to grow tea leaves and market them for sale to a worldwide market.

“It looks to be a subversive perversion of ag use of prime agricultural land,” she added.

But developer Andy Friend said the plan all along has been to establish agricultural uses that will benefit the community and outlying regions.

The issue came up Tuesday as the subdivision committee reviewed subdivision plans proposed by Plantation Partners, Kaua‘i, DCA Hawai‘i and Kealiakealanani for 75 homes on agricultural lots. In all, 190 residential lots are planned.

The Planning Department had recommended the change because of similar challenges that arose with the Hokulia agricultural subdivision on the Big Island.

Prior to the Kealia project, Kaua‘i County officials said no developer of agricultural subdivision projects on the island has ever been required to obtain that type of ruling from the LUC before.

Officials also said they won’t mind reviewing any recommendations from the LUC and that the county has the final word on uses on agricultural lands.

Lauren Sharkey, a Honolulu attorney representing Plantation Partners, and developers Andy Friend and Paul Kyno all said it was their belief the county had the authority to determine what is a legal agricultural subdivision.

Friend said the developers have spent a lot of time and research in establishing a diversified agricultural community within the subdivision.

“This project is all about agriculture,” Friend said.

For the $100 million project, Plantation Partners proposes a 190-lot residential subdivision that involves the cultivation, harvesting and marketing of tea leaves, taro plants and cacao.

Through a deed restriction, 70 percent of the land will be set aside in perpetuity for agricultural use, the developers have said.

From his point of view, Kaua‘i resident Mark Boiser said it is unlikely the new homeowners will pursue agricultural projects. “These people could care less about agriculture,” Boiser said, glaring at the developers.

Once the developers sell their lots, they “won’t give a damn” what happens to them, Boise said. “I am bringing out the truth.” he said.

Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation attorney David Kimo Frankel, representing Kaua‘i resident Nani Rogers, said the developer made numerous misrepresentations, even lies.

Fankel said the developers lied when they said the LUC has no authority to rule on a declamatory opinion on agricultural subdivisions. In reality, the LUC made declaratory rulings on such matters, he said.

“The applicant has lied to you,” Frankel said.

He also said the issue will not be brought to the LUC unless someone petitions it for the ruling. Only the LUC staff will look at the developer’s application, he added.

But a county planner said LUC will see the application via its staff.

Laura Marsh, the interim president of the Wailua-Kapa‘a Neighborhood Association, said her organization opposed the LUC rule change, noting that “once the way is cleared for development, there is no turning back.”

Some audience members who are longtime residents of Kapa‘a, including planning director Ian Costa, said none had heard of the organization before, nor were they asked to join it.

Also, Bob Farias Jr., Stuart Wellington and Bruce Laymon, farmers and ranchers, all said the project would protect farming for future generations and that they supported the Kealia project.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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