Federal judge says Hilton must build intersection

A South Kohala resort must finish an intersection with Queen Kaahumanu Highway, a federal judge ruled last week.

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A South Kohala resort must finish an intersection with Queen Kaahumanu Highway, a federal judge ruled last week.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson said Hilton Resorts Corp. and Hilton Kingsland, a timeshare development at the Hilton Waikoloa Village location, is fully responsible for connecting an internal resort road with the highway at its intersection with Waikoloa Road.

“(B)oth the County Planning Department and State Department of Transportation have unequivocally concluded that the North Intersection Improvements are necessary as a result of Hilton’s development of the property,” Watson wrote in his ruling, issued May 22.

According to court documents, the state Land Use Commission and Planning Department both required the intersection improvements as requirements for their approvals of the project. DOT officials reiterated the need for the intersection in a letter to county planning officials in 2009. Hilton officials agreed to the requirements as laid out as far back as 1990, Watson’s ruling said.

As recently as six years ago, Hilton officials were still working on getting DOT approval for the intersection work.

“According to Hilton, it continued to analyze the potential benefits of building the intersection even after final subdivision approval was issued in 2006 because ‘it believed continued planning made business sense,’” Watkins wrote, quoting a Hilton submittal to the court.

Hilton officials denied that they were required to build the intersection, though, adding, “whatever business benefit to the project Hilton might have thought would result from voluntarily building an intersection that would provide Kingsland residents direct access to the Queen Kaahumanu Highway, the economic events of 2008 drastically changed the cost-benefit analysis and made even the costs of continued planning unjustifiable,” according to Watson’s ruling, quoting again from Hilton’s arguments.

The project was expected to cost about $5 million, the ruling said.

The county’s final subdivision approval required the intersection to be completed by March 2013. When that didn’t happen, Waikoloa Development Corp., which sold the property to Hilton, filed suit in federal court to seek enforcement of the contract.

Letters from state and county officials affirmed that the intersection was supposed to be a cross intersection to properly mitigate traffic created by the timeshare development.

Hilton is “solely responsible” for the cost of the traffic improvements, Watson said.

Hawaii County Planning Director Duane Kanuha said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of the litigation that concluded with last week’s ruling. He said he had recently been involved in negotiations with Hilton Kingsland officials regarding the intersection. In those discussions, officials said they were willing to pay a pro rata portion of the intersection costs, but not the full cost.

Former Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, who wrote a 2010 letter confirming the intersection requirement, was upset when Hilton officials said they would not build the intersection, Kanuha said.

Further, another former landowner in the area, Elleair, which just sold its property last month, told county officials it had paid $3 million to Waikoloa Development Co. for its portion of road construction costs, Kanuha said.

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A Waikoloa Development attorney said that transaction predated his involvement with the company, adding funds the company received were used for infrastructure.

Officials at Hilton did not respond to a message seeking comment on the ruling.

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