Ho’opili farmland, reclassified for housing development by LUC
Image: Joana Gonzalez

On Friday, June 8, in what could be a knockout blow to hopes for food self-sufficiency in Hawaii, the State Land Use Commission (LUC) approved the 12,000-home development known as Hoopili. This decision followed the LUC’s approval of Castle & Cooke’s 5,000-home Koa Ridge development on Thursday.

The result: In two days, Hawaii saw a total of nearly 2,300 acres–about 45 percent–of its food-producing agricultural land reclassified in favor of homes and construction jobs.

“I’m not surprised,” said testifier D’Angelo McIntyre after the final hearing. “I’ve lost faith in this island and the decisions that are made here.”

In 2009, when Kioni Dudley, president of Friends of Makakilo, intervened against D.R. Horton’s first petition to rezone 1,500 acres of agricultural land to urban, the possibility of a local food economy wasn’t even a dialogue. Since then, Hawaii’s food and farm awareness has gone from pitiful to plentiful.

“I thought they were really listening to us,” a stunned Dudley said to the Weekly after the LUC’s Friday meeting. “I think the people of Hawaii have really lost out.” But looking ahead, Dudley also mentioned a possible lawsuit to be filed on behalf of interveners including himself, Sierra Club and Sen. Clayton Hee. “The situation is that the law is on our side. I really think the Land Use Commission is misinterpreting the laws and what they’re supposed to be doing.”

But commissioners such as Lisa Judge argued that denying urban development at Hoopili wouldn’t have guaranteed that the land would stay in agricultural food production. “I think [D.R. Horton was] very clear in saying, in fact, it won’t,” she added during the Commission’s deliberations. “There is nothing simple, straightforward, black or white about this case; I would say it’s been among shades of grey. And that’s why it’s been very a difficult discussion and decision.”

But for Jaye Makua–the only dissenting commissioner in the 8-1 vote–the choice was fairly straightforward. “My decision is based on what will be impacted greater,” said Makua. “Will the production of agriculture be impacted greater than the fulfillment of those homes for urban growth?”

One point frequently referenced by interveners is the more than 50,000 homes, not including those scheduled for Koa Ridge, that are already entitled and ready to be built in Leeward and Central Oahu.

But after eight months of hearings–including a revolving doorful of expert witnesses, city and state officials and even a few former governors–the LUC ruled in favor of the master-planned community with an amendment requiring an updated traffic impact analysis report.

“I think what Hoopili did was bring a lot of issues to the forefront, and I think the discourse is good,” Cameron Nekota, vice president of D.R. Horton’s Schuler Homes Division told the Weekly after the decision. “Everybody had the opportunity to comment and give their perspective on it and I think in the end, the Land Use Commission benefited by having more information.”

Nekota said construction of infrastructure for the project will begin by late 2013, with initial home construction by 2014. But is he worried about more delays–perhaps in court?

“That’s certainly not within our control,” he said. “We’re just going to focus on our supporters and the community and how we can move forward best.”

From a regulatory standpoint, the next step for both projects’ developers will be to seek rezoning approval from the City Council.