Hawaii plans to build veterans home on former sugar mill site

HONOLULU (AP) — The state is seeking to build a $70 million veterans home on part of the former Aiea Sugar Mill site owned by Honolulu, prompting criticism from community leaders. The state Office of Veterans’ Services announced the plan earlier this month to construct the 120-bed facility on land the city bought 16 years ago intending to support preservation of the area’s plantation heritage, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday. The facility was planned for a vacant property owned by the University of Hawaii, but Col. Ron Han, Veterans’ Services director, said the university withdrew the location. However, the University of Hawaii said that’s false and that the land has not been withdrawn for consideration. University President David Lassner sent a letter July 12 confirming the university’s intent to lease the land. “We had been committed,” UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We were basically told we were not needed anymore.” Han did not respond to a follow-up interview request by the Star-Advertiser. A site needs to be secured to avoid losing $40 million in federal funding for the project, state representatives said. Some Aiea community leaders opposed the mill site after they worked for more than a decade to redevelop the property. The project was presented during an Aiea Neighborhood Board meeting, leading some community members to say they felt ambushed by the presentation and felt the state was pitting veterans against area residents. “I think this process that you presented here is really not pono (right),” said Andrew Kaufman, a University of Hawaii professor who helped Aiea residents with planning work. “The community has already been developing this for many, many, many years.” Han apologized for the surprise presentation, pledging to work with the community. “We’re not here to discount what the community has done,” Han said. The 19-acre mill property was once part of the Honolulu Plantation Co. The city bought 7 acres for $8.9 million in 2002. Han said site was put forward as the only other viable option. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is planning to acquire the property from the city.