Attorneys for South Kohala developer seek $725K

  • The Villages at Aina Lea project site is shown. (Draft EIS, 2010/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The gate to Aina Lea development across from the Mauna Lani Resort is locked. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)

KAILUA-KONA — Attorneys for a South Kohala developer are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars for their work after recently prevailing over the state in a federal takings claim case.

Bays Lung Rose &Holma, the law firm that has represented Bridge Aina Lea LLC since 2011 when the case was filed in U.S. District Court, motioned Judge Susan Oki Mollway to award $662,227 for attorneys’ fees and $62,810 for associated costs to be paid by the state Land Use Commission, which is funded by taxpayers.

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A hearing has yet to be set for the motion filed April 13 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

The move follows a federal jury siding with the developer on March 23, agreeing that a 2011 state Land Use Commission decision to reclassify 1,060 acres at The Villages at Aina Lea was a constitutional taking of the property without just compensation.

The case went to trial after a settlement agreement in which the state agreed to pay $1 million to settle the case rather than go to trial fell through.

“The trial, the verdict, the judgment, fees and costs could have been avoided, had the State honored the settlement that the parties reached in summer 2016. Unfortunately, as the State’s attorney general later revealed, the LUC and its staff ‘openly opposed settlement and communicated this directly to the Legislature, which then disapproved an appropriation to settle this case,’” the motion filed last week reads.

The jurors, however, did not address during the trial just compensation, which is the amount the state would be liable for the takings. That’s because prior to trial, Mollway ruled to exclude the property owner’s expert witnesses on the matter.

Mid-trial, Mollway granted part of a motion by the state to set just compensation at $1 and in her judgment order issued March 30 entered nominal damages of $1 to Bridge Aina Lea. She also noted the developer could appeal the amount as well as request payment for court costs, the latter of which occurred April 13.

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Bridge Aina Lea has said it plans to appeal the compensation amount. Attorney Bruce Voss previously said the just compensation owed is approximately $20 million.

Bridge Aina Lea, one of the developers of 3,000-acre The Villages at Aina Lea, sued the commission in 2011 following a decision that year to revert zoning on a 1,060-acre tract to its original classification of agricultural from urban, arguing the move was a constitutional taking of Bridge’s property without just compensation because of the loss of the use of the land after it had already invested millions of dollars into the project. The decision was ultimately overturned in the courts.