HILO — The county’s purchase of a $2.7 million Vacationland parcel from a politically connected family is ongoing, even after the land was made worthless by lava inundation.
While Mayor Harry Kim says the county should back out of the deal, he said the county had already agreed to the purchase and it’s up to the state to make its determination. The county had signed a contract making its purchase contingent on a state grant, a county attorney said.
Kim said the county had decided to buy the property because it would have provided ocean access, but now there’s 300 to 400 yards of lava, which by law belongs to the state, between the property and the ocean.
“The whole purpose of purchasing it is gone,” Kim said Thursday. “I’m not interested in paying good money for that. … The state may come to the same conclusion.”
The purchase was intended to create a buffer between Vacationland development and tide pools as well as provide public access to the ocean. The property includes what were previously the Waiopae tide pools before lava consumed them last month.
Kim, who owns a lot adjacent to the property, wasn’t the mayor when the County Council voted to buy it in 2013. Kim lost his vacation home to lava in early June.
The Hawaii County Council unanimously passed a resolution in December 2013, authorizing the purchase of the property that was ranked seventh on the priority list by the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission. The state Board of Land and Natural Resources subsequently voted to contribute $1.3 million under the Legacy Land program.
Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, will likely be communicating with the county about whether to proceed, spokesman Dan Dennison said Thursday.
“It’s premature to say at this point,” Dennison said.
The land is owned by Kahi Inc., which lists retired 3rd Circuit Judge Glenn Hara as vice president and treasurer, and his wife, Janet, as president. Gregory Abe is listed as a director, according to documents filed with the state.
Hara inherited the land from his developer father, the late Stanley I. Hara, who was elected to the Hawaii Territorial Legislature in 1954, and reelected until retiring as a senator in 1980. Stanley Hara owned the land in partnership with, among others, Kazuhisa Abe, a fellow lawmaker and later state Supreme Court associate justice, for whom Glenn Hara once clerked.
Kim said he hoped the landowners don’t take his words personally, noting that many families have lost their investments, their homes and their dreams to the lava flow.
Messages left for Janet Hara were not returned by press time Thursday.
The 284-acre main parcel was valued for tax purposes at $1.1 million, until the county zeroed the value out last month, along with scores of other properties, as lava overtook them from the eruption that started May 3. The owners paid $10,640 in taxes last year. The parcel has been combined for the sale with another lot under the same ownership to create a 326-acre parcel.
The county’s share comes from the open space fund, derived from a percentage of property taxes taken off the top, before the money is budgeted. The county so far has spent $50,000 in escrow deposits, $4,479 for appraisals and $24,118 for shoreline certification surveys for the property, according to county records.
The property borders the south side of Kapoho Kai Road and is makai of Highway 137. It also borders the marine life conservation district with about 4,000 feet of shoreline south of the Vacationland subdivision.
County Property Manager Hamana Ventura said Monday the county hasn’t yet received a notice to proceed from the state, because the Legacy Land grant hasn’t been finalized.
“Once we get clarification and a decision from Legacy Lands … then the county will be coming up with a game plan,” Ventura said.