LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council voted unanimously Wednesday to proceed with the acquisition of 23.5 acres of property in Kilauea using the process of eminent domain.
The county plans to use the property to build affordable housing. The 7-0 vote in favor of adopting Resolution 2021-27 came after a lengthy discussion about Kaua‘i’s affordable housing crisis.
The council’s decision to use eminent domain to obtain the property comes after negotiations with the landowner, Leland Bertsch of B&D Properties, a North Dakota-based LLC, fell apart over the last two years.
Bertsch told The Garden Island that he valued the property at around $30 million — a price the county was unwilling to pay.
During the council’s meeting Wednesday, county Housing Director Adam Roversi said that the two parties were “so far apart that we’re not going to come to a negotiated agreement” to purchase the property by normal means.
Roversi stressed that the county “had no over-arching desire” to use eminent domain to acquire the property, but that it was necessary because of the inability to negotiate a price.
County Attorney Matthew Bracken told councilmembers that the process will proceed to court, where a fair market price for the property will be determined. There, B&D Properties will be able to dispute the necessity and legality of the claim.
Bracken noted that the property is currently zoned for agricultural use and will need to be rezoned through the county and state before housing can be developed on the site — a process he said could take one to two years.
Roversi pointed out that even though the property is zoned for agricultural use, there is no active farming or ranching taking place on the property and he did not believe there had been any since the dissolution of the Kilauea Plantation Company in the 1970s.
Councilmember Billy DeCosta praised the move to acquire the land using eminent domain, saying that the price of the property was effectively exclusionary to Kaua‘i residents. DeCosta said that the price of property on the island effectively locks out locals, leaving only wealthy off-island investors able to buy land on Kaua‘i.
“Large landowners, watch out,” DeCosta said. “Because we are doing what is in the best interest of our community. Locals cannot buy land today. How do we help them? This is one way to help them. Is Kilauea the only piece of property or the only one on the North Shore for residents to look out for? Wrong. We will look from west to north, and we will make sure that we have our community in the best interest.”
Councilmember Felicia Cowden took a softer tone, emphasizing that the county’s use of eminent domain was “not a predatory action.”
Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro echoed her sentiment, pointing out that the county had used “every tool in the toolbox” to move forward with housing projects across the island, including at the Waimea 400 site and Lima Ola Workforce Housing.
Kaleb Lay, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or email@example.com.