HANALEI, Kauai (AP) - A company that wants to build luxury homes and hotel cottages in the hills above Hanalei Bay met with residents this week to hear their concerns about the project.
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 Kauai residents crammed into Hanalei School's cafeteria for the meeting Tuesday, The Garden Island newspaper reported.
Eric Crispin, vice president of Ohana Real Estate Investors, said the large turnout told him the 60-acre property is a special place. He said the company cares deeply about it.
"We also care deeply about the environment and the culture and we're trying to strive for that balance between what is financially feasible and looking after the environment as well as the culture," Crispin told those gathered.
Hayley Ham Young-Giorgio, whose family has lived in Hanalei for generations, warned that the development would help transform Hanalei into something akin to a California beach town. Hanalei's Black Pot Beach is named after the wok her great-grandfather used to cook out of for the community - a wok the family still has today.
"To introduce multi-million-dollar homes sitting on top of the ridge looking down on Black Pot would break the heart of thousands of people who live here and also those who come to visit and enjoy the beauty of the bay," Ham Young-Giorgio said. "Building on the ridge opens the door to letting it become more like Laguna Beach and less like Hanalei."
Ohana Real Estate Investors is indirectly owned by Honolulu-based philanthropist and eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar. The billionaire owns Ohana Holdings LLC, which owns Ohana Real Estate Investors.
Michelle Swartman, Ohana Real Estate's director of land and community development, said Omidyar doesn't get involved in the daily operations of the company. His focus, she said, is on philanthropic efforts involving such issues as food security and sustainability.
The company plans a luxury development of 86 hotel units and 34 residential lots.
The residential lots are being proposed on top of a ridge along Hanalei River, and would be suitable for luxury homes.
The hotel units - bungalows or cottages roughly 500 square feet each - would be built on a large piece of land between the ridge and the former Princeville Hotel, now the St. Regis Resort.
The developer would restore a large, ancient Hawaiian fishpond near the ocean. The fishpond is currently covered by marsh full of invasive species. Some of the cottages would line up around the fishpond.
Some residents expressed concern about Hanalei becoming like neighboring Princeville. One man said the area wasn't meant to be developed.