Hawaiian family claims ownership of Kohala shoreline parcel

  • Kohala Shoreline LLC is proposing to develop a six-lot subdivision makai of Akoni Pule Highway on nearly 38 acres in North Kohala about 3 miles north of Kawaihae Harbor near Waiakailio Bay, pictured here. (Image from draft EA/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The Kohala Shoreline subdivision is seen from the ocean in this simulated view of the project. (Image from draft EA/Special to West Hawaii Today)

A Native Hawaiian family claiming ownership of a Kohala shoreline parcel sparked a heated outburst from a sovereignty activist that temporarily shut down a Planning Committee hearing last week, but ended with the parcel moving forward to a rezoning.

Albert and Matthew Kahoopii produced genealogy records and other documents to try to prove their claim that the land had been in their family for generations.

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“This map that I have goes back to 1928. Now, I’m here to stand up for my rights, and my family’s, that nobody has the right to claim this land,” said Albert Kahoopii. “We are here to let you know nobody has a higher title than what we have. If you do, fine, let’s go to court.”

His claim was echoed by Matthew Kahoopii.

“I did my research very well. … What I’m holding in my hand is superior title,” he said. “Today, we can make a claim and with these documents that I have right here.”

The committee voted 9-0 Tuesday to send to the council with a favorable recommendation Bill 141, allowing developers of a 38-acre shoreline parcel north of Kohala Kai to downsize the zoning to create only six lots rather than the 50 currently allowed. The bill now goes to two readings before the County Council.

The developers, Kohala Shores LLC, won unanimous approval Jan. 16 from the Leeward Planning Commission to rezone the property and in a separate 4-2 vote, won approval for a special management area permit.

Project manager Greg Mooers, representing Nathan Myhrvold, a scientist, former Microsoft exec and Seattle resident who purchased the acreage 21 years ago, said he sympathizes with the Kahoopii family, but the County Council and Planning Commission aren’t the venues to fight that fight.

“I certainly don’t question the sincerity or legitimacy of some of the concerns about ownership. … I would just simply point out that this land is land-courted, we believe we have clear title and we have title insurance to it,” Mooers told council members. “I’m sorry that the issue has come to you today because you cannot provide the relief that these testifiers are requesting.”

A new SMA use permit was required for the project as its scope has changed and work will take place near the shoreline, which falls within the state’s defined special management area.

According to the environmental assessment, all building sites would be located mauka of an old coastal-now-Jeep-trail called Ala Loa, with a 50- to 250-foot wide shoreline area below dedicated as an easement for public use. Homes, which would have a maximum height of 25 feet, would be situated at least 100 feet mauka of the trail and at least 150 feet makai of the highway.

Also planned is a four-stall public parking area that would be open from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset, which would access a new 800-foot long, 10-foot wide mauka-makai pedestrian trail to the shoreline, which includes Waiakailio Bay. Access to the subdivision would be via two sites off the highway.

Council members were also sympathetic to the Kahoopiis, but activist Gene Tamashiro, who claims to represent the Hawaiian Kingdom, sparked anger in South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, a Native Hawaiian. A back and forth between David and Tamashiro ended with him accusing the council of committing war crimes.

“We are not going away!” Tamashiro shouted as he left the room.

“Do not tell me what I can and cannot do. … I don’t respect that. That is not Hawaiian, that is not aloha,” David responded. “And don’t dare do that to a fellow Hawaiian.”

David later apologized for losing her temper, saying hearing an activist try to make political hay with Hawaiian cultural issues is “the straw that broke my back.”

Appearing to be fighting back tears, David said her own family lost land through adverse possession and quiet title actions and she knows it’s still going on today on the island.

“Title to our lands have been neglected — can I say neglected — from Day One when everything that we understand as taken culturally as our land, is our land is our parents, and in our society today, it’s totally different,” David said.

She offered to use her legal experience in her personal time to help the Kahoopii family navigate the system. In the meantime, though, she said, “What I’m doing today is supporting a down-zone of land that would have been devastating to the Kohala coast. … I’d rather see six lots than 115 high-end lots that will just clutter our shoreline.”

Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter also expressed support.

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“I know and I feel for the Kahoopii ohana,” Poindexter said. “I would just like to acknowledge my heartfelt — I would say condolences — on your journey to make what you felt your family needs to be pono.”

Developers assured the committee they would be working with the Kahoopii family on such issues as treatment of family burial sites and preservation as the project progresses.