State Wrestles With How To Make Developers Keep Their Promises

The state is considering appealing a Big Island judge’s recent decision to allow a project in South Kohala to move forward.

The state Land Use Commission said developers missed deadlines for building affordable housing, and earlier this year, reverted the land classification for the Villages of Aina Lea from agricultural to urban.

The move halted development of the $250 million project and raised questions about what would happen to housing that had already been built on the land.

The developers — Bridge Aina Lea and DW Aina Lea — challenged the LUC's decision in court, saying that the LUC didn't follow an appropriate process in reclassifying the land back to agriculture. Judge Elizabeth Strance ruled in their favor, requiring commissioners to switch the land back to urban.

If Attorney General David Louie does appeal the decision, a higher court ruling could set a statewide precedent and strengthen — or even weaken — the land use commission's ability to force developers to abide by conditions imposed on them when projects are approved.

It’s a case that land use attorneys, government officials and developers, in particular, are watching closely.

“The whole development community is buzzing about this – everyone knows about it,” said David Callies, a land use attorney and law professor at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson law school.

In the case of the Villages of Aina Lea, it’s a tale of missed deadlines, extensions and an easing of requirements.

While plans for the project have gone through numerous changes, one requirement has always been to include affordable housing.

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