Hanalei residents oppose luxury developments.
Image: joan conrow

Stiff opposition is building to a project bankrolled by billionaire Pierre Omidyar that would add mansions to the ridge above Hanalei River and a luxury resort at Princeville on Kauai.

Though Michelle Swartman of Ohana Real Estate Investors said over 100 meetings have been held on the project, it got its first public airing just last week. More than 400 people showed up at the Hanalei-Haena Community Association meeting to give the proposal a near unanimous thumbs-down. Some 5,000 signatures have also been collected on a petition calling upon Omidyar to drop the project.

Nearly all of the resistance is aimed at plans to develop 34 house lots along the ridge that borders the Hanalei River and looks down on the county’s Black Pot Beach Park. Residents said it would spoil the view from Hanalei Bay and erode the valley’s legendary scenic beauty. “Call this project the death of Hanalei,” said Dustin Barca, who said he feared people living “in those rich buildings right over our head” would soon clamor for curtailed activities at the popular park.

“You folks can be the heroes from now to posterity,” said former Hanalei School Principal Nick Beck. “You don’t have to put 34 houses up there. Move them someplace else.”

Wainiha resident Caren Diamond suggested Omidyar donate the ridge parcel to a land trust, which would give him a tax break and protect the site from development.

But Ohana Vice President Eric Crispin said that while Omidyar is the project’s principal investor, the eBay founder and Civil Beat publisher does not serve on the company’s development team or board of directors. “This is a business,” Crispin told the crowd. “You would rather have nothing. To us, that’s not viable or reasonable.”

“The big profit center is the sale of the CPR [condominium property regime] lots along the ridge,” said Carl Imparato of the Hanalei Bay Coalition.

Hanalei Realtor John Ferry concurred, noting that when he urged Swartman to drop the ridge lots, she said that would be akin to giving someone a diamond ring, but keeping the diamond.

Swartman downplayed concerns and the size of the opposition. “We’re excited that there are so many people who think Hanalei is special, because believe it or not, we do, too.”

Ohana initially came under fire when it closed a dedicated public access that runs through the property [“Beach Barriers,” July 4]. But after fisherman Lance Laney complained, the access was reopened. At last week’s meeting, the project architect told the crowd that a second easement would be created as part of the resort development.

Though residents were fired up, Swartman told them there is “no sense of urgency.” The company plans to have an Environmental Impact Statement ready for review in the spring, with groundbreaking still “years away,” perhaps 2016.