The state Land Use Commission on Thursday affirmed its decision to revert land owned by Bridge Aina Lea and DW Aina Lea to agriculture.
The commission voted 6 to 2 in favor of adopting its proposed decision and order, Commission Executive Director Dan Davidson said. The order was slightly amended from the proposed form; the amendments will not be available until Monday, Davidson said.
Hawaii County officials may allow the construction to continue, despite the commission’s ruling, a spokeswoman for DW Aina Lea said. Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd did not respond to a message left on her cell phone seeking clarification late Thursday. The spokeswoman said the building permits for the project were issued by the county, in accordance with county zoning, and the state commissioners did not intend to issue any ruling on existing structures.
Infrastructure for the project has not been completed; as of the last report to the commission, the existing structures did not have electricty or running water.
Commissioners did not discuss on Thursday the pending lawsuit against them, the state Planning Office and the Hawaii County Planning Department filed by DW Aina Lea seeking to have the land classification reversion overturned.
DW Aina Lea principal Robert Wessels declined to comment, referring to a written statement issued Thursday afternoon.
Commissioners, in their vote, “decided to ignore the needs of the community,” the statement said. “This reversion is absurd and not consistent with the highest and best use of this arid lava land.”
The statement further said project supporters “feel cheated” by the decision, and the developer intended to “honor its commitment to the Big Island by completing” the Lulana Gardens development within the Villages of Aina Lea.
DW Aina Lea’s statement said the company “will pursue all legal remedies available to protect its rights.”
While DW Aina Lea was the developer most recently offering to turn a portion of the South Kohala property, across from the Mauna Lani Resort, into affordable homes, other housing and commercial development, former developer Bridge Aina Lea still owns a portion of the land.
Bridge Aina Lea attorney Bruce Voss said his clients will continue to try to have the commission’s ruling overturned and plan to recover damages from the commission’s decision.
“The commission’s action today was both foolish and unlawful,” Voss said. “The commissioners who voted to change the property to agriculture use intentionally harmed the people of West Hawaii who want jobs and affordable housing.”
Commissioners, since late 2008, have taken Bridge Aina Lea and DW Aina Lea officials to task for failing to meet self-imposed construction deadlines. The commission in April 2009 voted to revert the land to agriculture, then gave developers a reprieve a few months later, setting a final deadline of November 2010 to build 385 affordable housing units. DW Aina Lea’s Robert Wessels assured the commission he could obtain financing and get the buildings constructed. But when the deadline came, only a portion of the units were built, the county had not issued any certificates of occupancy and infrastructure was not yet complete.
The project has a long history before the commission, going back more than 20 years to Signal Puako Corporation. They sold to Puako Hawaii Properties in 1991, which subsequently sold the land to Bridge Aina Lea in 2005.