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Massive Ka‘u parcel up for sale with $18M price tag

KAILUA-KONA — A massive piece of land in Ka‘u is up for sale and the future of the area is likely tied to the person or entity that ends up making the purchase.

The more than 16,000-acre parcel encompasses the coastline of Pohue Bay, a segment of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail and a nesting area for endangered hawksbill sea turtles, among other culturally relevant features. It is privately owned and has been the site of multiple failed attempts to create extensive residential and resort developments stretching back to the 1980s.

The land also has been on the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission’s list of potential land acquisitions for several years. In the most recent prioritized list, submitted to Mayor Harry Kim on Dec. 28, Pohue Bay was the No. 5 priority property.

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David said despite county interest in the property, the asking price along with the sheer size of the parcel makes public acquisition a somewhat dubious proposition. The property, which has been on the market for a little more than two months, is listed at $18 million.

“The price is extremely high,” she said. “You have to consider maintenance that goes along with such a huge parcel. It’s a great idea to have the county purchase it, but it wouldn’t be meaningful if we couldn’t take care of the place in a meaningful manner.”

The PONC fund is supplemented by 2 percent of the island’s real property tax revenues and about $4 million is deposited annually to be used for land acquisitions. The fund is padded further by state grants and occasional private donations.

The process for initiating a purchase starts with the relevant council member, in this case David, submitting a resolution to allow the county finance director to begin negotiating with the property owner.

It is up to the Department of Finance Property Management Division whether to pursue negotiations — a determination made based on a variety of factors including acquisition priorities, a willing seller, matching funds and a viable management strategy that typically involves community management groups.

In 2012, a resolution for the purchase of a conservation easement on the parcel was introduced by then-Councilwoman Brittany Smart.

“I think the general feedback we were getting was that so many of the open space lands were in Ka‘u, and they were trying to spread the money out to other locations,” Smart told WHT in May 2016 amid a resident push in Ocean View for better public access to the white sands of Pohue Bay.

David said she has not proposed any resolution to spur the potential for a new negotiation process.

Harold Clarke of Luxury Big Island, which is handling the sale, said private entities expressed interest in the property during its two months on the market.

“There are inquiries, but nothing serious yet has transpired,” he said. “There are a lot of dreamers out there.”

Clarke declined to divulge the name of the seller. As of May 2016, Nani Kahuku Aina LLC owned the land. The company purchased the property in 2006 and for years unsuccessfully attempted to develop it.

The parcel is zoned agricultural and conservation.

According to a West Hawaii Today report from 2009, Nani Kahuku Aina’s vision for the Kahuku Villages development included several thousand residences, multiple resorts, golf courses and private businesses.

It is one of two parcels included in a plan for the Hawaiian Riviera Resort, which was proposed in the 1980s but never materialized.

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