Honolua land’s top bid comes from Cochrans

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January 29, 2012
By ILIMA LOOMIS - Staff Writer (iloomis@mauinews.com) , The Maui News
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WAILUKU - Maui County Council Member Elle Cochran and her husband, Wayne, “put their money where their mouth is” last week to help preserve an embattled parcel of land in Honolua.

The Cochrans outbid Maui Land & Pineapple Co. in a partition sale Wednesday at the Hoapili Hale courthouse in Wailuku, winning the auction with a $30,000 bid for the 9,471-square-foot vacant lot located near the shoreline of Honolua Bay. Elle Cochran said she hopes to work with the Save Honolua Coalition to acquire the property or put it in a trust to be cared for and preserved.

“We definitely work hand in hand and want to come together for the best interests of the area, and we’ll see how we can work that out,” she said.

ML&P President and Chief Operating Officer Ryan Churchill declined to comment.

The sale of the property will not be final until a confirmation hearing, which is expected to be scheduled sometime in the next several weeks. However, ML&P or another interested buyer could potentially reopen the bidding at that time, by making an offer of at least 5 percent over the last bid.

Wednesday’s sale was the result of a quiet title lawsuit filed by ML&P in 2006 to assert its claim as part-owner of the property. The years of court proceedings that followed established that the parcel actually had at least 68 owners, many of them descendants of the original owners of the kuleana land.

The court found that ML&P owned two 1/192nds of a share, while the Cochrans owned 1/28th of a share.

Zoned in a conservation district, and lacking any public utilities, the parcel is unlikely to see development. The lot is also landlocked, but during proceedings, the court ordered neighboring landowners to provide an access easement.

Several years ago, the land was the scene of controversy when members of one family claiming part ownership of the property set up camp and charged visitors a “donation” for crossing to the ocean. Narciso Billianor Jr. was initially convicted of obstructing access to public property, but the conviction was later overturned when an appeals court found that the path across the property was not a public right of way.

Cochran said the family had agreed to remove their belongings and leave the property.

Cochran said she and her husband did not set out to acquire the lot but decided to go to Wednesday’s auction “just to see what would happen.”

She said her husband participated in some of the early bidding, but when another interested buyer dropped out, the couple decided to keep bidding against ML&P.

“We wanted to be there to check it out and see how it was going,” Elle Cochran said. “I think in the end we did not want Maui Land & Pine to be the sole owners of it.”

While she was pleased to have prevailed in the auction, Cochran said she remained troubled by the partition process and was disappointed that Maui Land & Pine had triggered the sale by filing its quiet title lawsuit five years ago.

“We all felt this was so unfair,” Cochran said. “None of us wanted to sell - not any of the families, not myself and my husband. . . . They forced the sale on this property, and that’s how we ended up here today.”

She said it would be “wonderful” if the Save Honolua Coalition ended up owning or caring for the area.

“We know we want the same thing for the land,” Cochran said.

Save Honolua President Tamara Paltin agreed.

“It would be great if Save Honolua could be the land trust operators or owners,” Paltin said. “My vision for it would be to go right along with our mission statement - maintain it as open space, maintain public access, and maintain it to perpetuate Hawaiian culture and revitalize the ecosystem of Honolua.”

Possible uses for the land could include installing a small “Makai Watch” booth, where volunteers could provide visitors with information about safety, etiquette and protecting the area’s sensitive environment.

She said the coalition might also consider using the lot to relocate the portable toilets it provides at the park, and installing a small box to collect donations to help fund the toilets.

The parcel might be a more convenient location for the toilets, which are currently located near the highway.

“I still see some people using the bathroom in the bushes because it’s too far,” Paltin said. “If they see the port-a-potty right there, maybe they won’t go in the bushes or in the water, and it’ll be more sanitary.”

She noted that an estimated 800 people per day visit Honolua, most of them passing by the parcel to access the park.

“There’s so much possibilities, even though it’s such a small piece of land, because of all the traffic that goes back and forth,” Paltin said.

Save Honolua Acting Secretary John Carty said the auction showed Honolua’s importance to the community. He also hoped his organization would be able to help manage the site in a trust.

“When it’s so important to everyone, it shouldn’t be left to just two individuals to save Honolua,” he said. “To me, it’s a sad story that a sacred piece of land like this could be forced to auction by a minority interest, but it has a happy ending thanks to Wayne and Elle. They really put their money where their mouth is on this one.”

Save Honolua Coalition has established a land-acquisition fund to help purchase the parcel. One donor has already pledged $15,000, Paltin said.

“We’re well on our way,” Paltin said.

For information about making a donation, call Paltin at 870-0052 or send email to kokua@savehonolua.org.

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