Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced a $48.5 million agreement earlier this month between state officials, representatives of the county and city of Honolulu and the owners of Turtle Bay Resort, hoping to preserve more than 600 acres on Oahu’s North Shore that had previously been designated for development.
While the deal still requires approval from the Hawaii State Legislature, which would need to appropriate $40 million, the agreement calls for the Turtle Bay Resort ownership group to sell the development rights to 665.8 acres, conserving the large parcels fronting Kawela Bay and Kahuku Point in perpetuity.
Although the bulk of the purchase funding would come from the state, an additional $5 million would come from the city of Honolulu and another $3.5 million from the Trust for Public Land.
“Now is the time to preserve open spaces at Turtle Bay,” Abercrombie said at a press conference. “This historic agreement is the result of public and private interests joining together to benefit the people of Hawaii and our visitors. This protects the heritage and rural character of the North Shore to ‘Keep the Country Country.”
Expansion plans at Turtle Bay Resort, which at one point called for an additional 3,500 hotel and residential units on the property’s 840 total acres, have been hotly contested by Oahu community and environmental groups for years. “Keep the Country Country” has developed into a rallying cry for many residents opposed to more urbanization on Oahu’s North Shore, and the phrase is commonly emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers across the state.
However, under the terms of the recent agreement, Turtle Bay owners would retain development rights on the roughly 200-acre parcel currently home to the 500-room oceanfront hotel and 368 residential condos.
The ownership group still plans to build two hotel buildings, one on either side of the existing property, creating an additional 625 full-service hotel rooms. Another 100 resort residential units are also planned, and according to Patrick Dugan, a spokesman for the resort, “ground breaking on hotel construction, assuming all permits are received in a timely fashion, could occur in 2016.”
Although the recent conservation agreement between the state and the resort ownership has earned praise from a number of stakeholders and seems to be viewed as a good first step by many in the Oahu community, Turtle Bay Resort is still facing litigation aimed at halting future development, including a lawsuit filed by the Defend Oahu Coalition.
While calling the recent deal “an amazing accomplishment,” representatives of the community group said that “there is more land to be conserved.”
“And a conservation agreement is not linked to any agreement to dismiss our case before the State Land Use Commission or the other pending legal actions by the community,” the group said in a statement.