LIHUE — Three months after being chosen to manage development of an exclusive, member-only resort community in Princeville, Discovery Land Company has been hired by Ohana Real Estate Investors, LLC to reevaluate its plans for a large and controversial development project near Hanalei Bay.
“We recently brought on Discovery Land Company to take a fresh look at our site to come up with an alternative project,” Michelle Swartman, director of land and community development at OREI, the company in charge of the proposed Hanalei Plantation Resort, wrote in an email.
Ohana Hanalei, LLC, backed by billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, continues to own the North Shore property, which extends from the bottom of the St. Regis Princeville Resort up to the Hanalei River.
Public opposition has mainly focused on OREI’s plans for 34 residential lots, ranging in size from 15,000 to 20,000 square-feet each, on the ridge above the Hanalei River and Black Pot Beach Park.
Starting in 2012, the Hanalei Bay Coalition gathered more than 6,000 signatures against the development, arguing it would alter the scenic, environmental and cultural qualities that make Hanalei Bay unique and iconic. They asked that Omidyar donate the ridge to conservation.
Omidyar purchased the property in 2008. In addition to residential units, current plans call for construction of an 86-room bungalow-style hotel and the “revitalization” of a 600-year-old fishpond, now home to a degraded, 13-acre wetland marsh overgrown by invasive plants.
The entire project, including the development of the adjacent Hanalei River Ridge, is expected to cost about $160 million.
Discovery Land Company operates 17 private projects around the country, including Montana’s exclusive Yellowstone Club ski resort, Makena on Maui and Kuki‘o on Big Island.
Swartman said the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company has a great track record and that it made sense to bring them on board, since they are already on island working with The Resort Group on its plans for a private, 8,000-acre, 350-unit residential community in nearby Princeville.
As for what the latest partnership could mean for Hanalei Plantation Resort is yet to be seen.
“(It’s) premature for them to discuss any alternatives as they are still getting up to speed,” Swartman said of Discovery.
Discovery Land Company could not be reached for comment Monday.
Hanalei Bay Coalition member Carl Imparato said a number of rumors have circulated over the last year about the fate of the project, including that the property had been sold. While he had not yet heard about Discovery being brought in to look at alternatives, Imparato welcomed any reassessment.
“It’s hard to imagine there’s something more that Discovery or anybody else might do that could make matters worse,” he said.
Imparato stressed that’s not to say he’s in favor of gated communities, but rather that it would be unlikely that Discovery proposed something worse than the “wall of development” planned by OREI.
“One would hope that (Discovery) would try to solicit community input and try to do something that’s more of a win-win than what Ohana Hanalei has proposed,” he said.
Imparato said that, in the case of Hanalei Plantation Resort, concerns were never about the amount of development but its inappropriate location along the ridge.
The site location is home to the former Hanalei Plantation Hotel — built in the 1960s — which later became Club Med hotel. In the 1980s, developer Bruce Stark got approval for a 204-unit hotel but never finished construction.
“The new project will strive to minimize impacts, while creating a viable wetland ecosystem that contributes toward a healthier Hanalei,” states Hanalei Plantation Resort’s website.
In November, Jeff Stone, a Hawaii landowner and founder of The Resort Group, unveiled details of his plans to create a members-only community over the next decade in the North Shore community of Princeville, with the Prince Golf Course as its centerpiece. Start to finish, TRG and its new partner, Reignwood International, an investment firm owned by billionaire Thai-Chinese businessman Chanchai Ruayrungruang, plan to spend at least $500 million on the project.
The Prince course officially closed Dec. 31, with Discovery assuming management the following day. It is expected to reopen in mid-2016 following $50 million in renovations, including a brand new clubhouse and improved greens, fairways and cart paths.
Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.