The growing debate over using farm land for housing has spread to Waianae with the announcement of plans for a gated residential project on agricultural acreage in Makaha Valley. “The community is not in favor of it because we don’t want any more of our agricultural land taken away,” says Roberta Searle, chair of the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board’s Economic & Development Committee. “There has to be some happy balance between housing our people and feeding our people.”

DTZ, a global property services company, recently announced it’s seeking to raise $25 million to build infrastructure for the Malulani Estates project. Plans call for 353 homes, a pool and a clubhouse off Kili Drive, adjacent to Makaha Resort Golf Club. The houses would be priced from $325,000 to $800,000.

The developers are MMK Global and The Chelsdan Co., which billed the project on as its website as a “prestigious new residential community” with “affordable as well as vacation housing availability.”

Neighborhood Board members say they have not seen project plans, and are unclear as to whether the developers will attempt to build an agricultural subdivision or seek a zoning change. But land use changes, which can take years, appear unlikely, since the website announces the project is coming in 2012. Developers’ representatives could not be reached for comment.

Board Secretary Al Frenzel anticipates the proposal will meet strong resistance. “It’s not popular these days to be converting ag land to housing. Not when there’s plenty of [residential] zoned land within the Valley that they could purchase,” Frenzel says. “Will they be able to get it for the same low price? No. That’s what zoning is for — for proper planning and development. That’s why when you have a property that’s zoned appropriately you pay more for it.”

Makaha Valley Road LLC bought the 61-acre agricultural parcel for $500,000 this past May at a foreclosure auction.

“I think it’s pretty inexcusable for a developer to buy cheap ag land and make a fortune off it growing houses on it,” Frenzel says, adding that, even if the project moves ahead, “I’m not sure the market could support it.” Another residential project in the area is selling slowly, Frenzel notes.

Searle says the Malulani Estates proposal also may be affected by the outcome of the Makaha Bridge project, which is now in litigation.