Koloa Camp tenants’ relocation deadline Easter Sunday

KOLOA — Rather than an Easter egg hunt and family dinner Sunday, a Koloa Camp resident says his family will be spending the holiday searching for a new home.

Grove Farm Co. has given its eight Koloa Camp tenants until April 8 to vacate the historic plantation-era community formerly known as Japanese Camp C. The company plans to tear down the 100-year-old homes, which it claims are dilapidated and in a flood zone, to make way for a new 50-unit, “affordably priced,” prefabricated housing development called Waihohonu.

Koloa Camp residents, many of whom are veterans and seniors who have lived at the camp for decades, have fought to save the historic camp and their homes since learning of the company’s plans in November, when it distributed 120-day notices to vacate. In early March, Grove Farm extended its original March 8 move-out to April.

During the last five months, tenants have rallied to save their neighborhood. They held numerous community meetings to discuss “win-win” alternatives to destroying Koloa’s last-standing camp, and they have reached out to state and local government for assistance.

Hawai‘i State Senate passed a non-binding resolution in February requesting that Grove Farm meet with its tenants to discuss alternative solutions that would meet the needs of all parties involved. The resolution then transitioned to the House for approval. The House chose to defer its decision for one year.

Kaua‘i County Council last month received a petition with more than 2,000 signatures in favor of seeking an alternative to the destruction of Koloa Camp. A majority of councilmembers responded by passing a resolution similar to that of the Senate’s, requesting that Grove Farm, one of the island’s largest land holders, meet with its tenants and entertain win-win solutions.

The company declined council’s resolution request in a letter dated March 26 and signed by senior VP Mike Tresler.

“After carefully reviewing the resolution, we must respectfully decline the council’s request,” the letter states. “We intend to proceed with development of housing on this property as planned, which we believe will be a benefit to our community.”

On Friday, Kepa Kruse, who was born in Koloa Camp and still resides there with his father, John Kruse, said four or five of the houses in Koloa Camp are still occupied and that he and his father and others intend to remain beyond midnight on Easter, the official deadline to vacate.

Kruse said residents are aware that Grove Farm will likely go to court to obtain a formal eviction order, at which time he said their argument to save Koloa Camp may be made before a judge.  

According to the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i, eviction is a multi-step process. Landlords seeking termination of a month-to-month rental for reasons other than non-payment must provide proper notice and 45 days lease.

If a tenant refuses to move out after that period, the landlord must go to court and file a complaint, which will be followed by a trial. The process could take one to three weeks for county courts, according to Legal Aid.

“We’ve done our best to educate ourselves in legal eviction procedures, and we hope the residents and Grove Farm will act respectfully on April 9,” Kruse said.

He said he thinks a lot of the residents are scared about what may transpire.

“We vowed there will be no physical violence or abusive language,” Kruse said.

Friday afternoon, Koloa Camp residents and supporters held a sign-waving demonstration across from Grove Farm’s office on Kuhio Highway in Lihu‘e.

Kruse said they got more than a thousand honks and lots of waves and shakas.

“It felt good and really lifted a lot of spirits,” he said. “I still believe there’s hope that things will work out.”

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 251, or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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