Investor tabbed for land board

LIHUE — The state Legislature’s Senate Committee on Water and Land will conduct a hearing today to consider Shawn Smith as the island’s representative to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

Some have hailed Smith to be the right pick for the position based on his community service and balanced business approach, but others say his role as the general manager of Falko Partners, LLC, a land investment group, puts him at odds with his duties.

Kauai Chamber of Commerce President Randy Francisco, a Kauai Police Commissioner, said Smith, who served on the board from 2008 to 2011, would volunteer his time often for several years and even help sponsor the organization’s annual scholarship golf tournament.

“That attitude just told me that he’s a good guy and wants to get involved, be involved in the community and just support us for the right reasons by doing what all of the businesses on Kauai try to do — lend their time, give their money and share their talents,” Francisco said.

As a member of the Board of Land an Natural Resources, Francisco said Smith, a Kauai native and former Kauai police officer, would offer “a good background in land and natural resources from the standpoint of use and balance.”

“When looking at what he (Smith) has done, I feel he has always been a person who has been balanced by looking at the whole picture,” Francisco said. “I feel he’s someone who can provide good insight and balance to the board in their discussions and deliberations.”

Some residents, however, are not so sure.  

An email statement sent Monday to the Sierra Club’s Kauai chapter members criticized Smith’s involvement with the Kahuaina Plantation subdivision project on the island’s North Shore, which is owned by Falko Partners.

Under current development proposals, the project would convert some of the now vacant 357 acres of agricultural and conservation lands in Waipake into a residential area that can accommodate up to 80 homes.

The project, which is listed for $70 million, includes 2,500 linear feet of direct beach access and a 27-acre agricultural easement consisting of permanent and organic crops, such as palm trees, ginger, turmeric and papaya.

“The conversion of agricultural lands to residential use is at odds with the objectives of the state land use laws that the BLNR is tasked to uphold,” the unsigned Sierra Club statement read. “There are inherent conflicts of interest between land developers who convert agricultural lands to luxury gentleman’s estates with those who are tasked with protecting Hawaii’s natural resources.”

Moloaa resident Hope Kallai agreed and said “Shawn would have to recuse himself on anything to do with Kahuaina and maybe any other agriculture-to-luxury-residential project.”

“Ten years of planning efforts but no public hearing,” Kallai said about the process. “We deserve better.”

The Legislature, which convened for a special session Monday to consider same-sex marriage in Hawaii, is also taking up other issues, including Smith’s appointment to the seven-member state board responsible for approving land leases and governing land uses in state conservation districts.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie submitted Smith’s nomination to Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and other Senate members on Oct. 22, according to a Legislature memo.

Smith was first appointed to the Department of Land and Natural Resources board as Kauai’s interim representative on June 7 after Ron Agor’s term expired that month.

“The Governor continues to support Shawn Smith in his appointment to the Board of Land and Natural Resources,” Christine Hirasa, Abercrombie’s deputy communications director, wrote in an email. “He is highly qualified and capable of serving the state of Hawaii.”

Phone calls and emails left for Smith were not returned.

In addition to his current tenure on the board, Smith, a former Kauai Chamber of Commerce board member, also serves as Kauai’s representative to the Department of Transportation Advisory Board and the vice president of the Kauai Police Activities League.

His confirmation hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today at the Hawaii State Capitol.

If his appointment is confirmed by the Legislature, Smith’s term on the board would expire on June 30, 2017.

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