Preserving a hillside
A nonprofit’s East Honolulu land purchase leaves some residents a bit on edge
Earlier this year, 75 acres of East Honolulu land, in one of Hawaii’s wealthiest areas, sold for $380,000. The parcel is on the slope that stretches from the east side of Aina Haina up to the luxury homes of Hawaii Loa Ridge. The land had been on the market for years, the price gradually dropping from over $2 million because nobody wanted to buy an undeveloped section of a valley wall covered in scrub brush and kiawe.
The land was purchased with a $400,000 donation from the World Library Foundation, an international organization that provides royalty-free historical books, classic works of literature and reference books online. John Guagliardo, a Hawaii resident and former literature professor who works for World Library, now serves as volunteer executive director of Hawaii Loa Ridge Preserve, an organization that was granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last month, to manage the parcel.
“We want to be really clear: The preserve will not be open to the public,” Guagliardo said. He says there are no plans for hiking trails, roads or buildings. “Emphatic no. We see that as an inappropriate use of the land. We will not increase traffic in the area.” The parcel’s address is listed as 184 Puuikena Drive and is zoned preservation land. When Hawaii Loa Ridge was developed into a gated community in the 1980s, the 75 acres along the Aina Haina side became “leftover” land, owned by Atherton Richards Trust. Two rainwater diversion
channels were built down the hillside when Hawaii Loa Ridge was developed, though these have become clogged with buffalo grass and branches. Volunteers with the Hawaii Loa Ridge Preserve have begun work on the land, clearing dry brush, figuring out what’s there and assessing risks such as rockfall mitigation, erosion control, and restoration of endemic and indigenous plants. The sudden activity on a hillside that had been quiet and largely forgotten for decades has drawn concern from Aina Haina residents. Guagliardo spoke at the October Kuliouou/Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board and plans to go back every month to give updates. “Everyone wants to know our intentions,” he said.
It is difficult to understand why a group would take on a piece of property that seems to come with more public liability than assets. It seems like an odd mission for an organization dedicated to literature, but Guagliardo says the World Library Foundation is also committed to preservation in communities.
Kora Iechad-Remoket, a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, serves as the volunteer office manager for the nonprofit. She has been sending out surveys to Aina Haina neighbors, particularly those whose houses border the property, asking them about their main concerns and trying to find out the history of the property. “We want to do a one-year pilot project to reintroduce endemic plants to the area and restore the hillside,” she said. “We want to know what can grow here, what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate, and what endemic plants can mitigate rockfall and help with erosion control.” The pilot project calls for a greenhouse and a storage shed to sit on less than an acre of the property. IechadRemoket said these would be temporary structures located near an already-established road and easement. The group also wants to cut in a firebreak by clearing 20 feet of dry brush between the houses and the slope. Last week, Guagliardo fielded phone calls from area residents alarmed when a 40-foot kiawe tree fell near the property line. No damage was done, but it was clear the neighbors are keeping an eye on what’s going on. “The intention is to keep the preserve a preserve,” Guagliardo said. “What we want to do now is assess and find out what is there, what it means, and take care of it. If you ignore what you should have known, then you get into trouble.”
Seventy-five acres of land in one of Oahu’s most expensive areas for real estate was recently purchased for $380,000. The parcel runs from the edge of Aina Haina homes up to the beginning of Hawaii Loa Ridge. This photo of the ridge was taken from Aipuni Street.
John Guagliardo, executive director of Hawaii Loa Ridge Preserve, stands in a rainwater diversion channel overgrown with weeds on the land the nonprofit recently purchased in Aina Haina.
Kora Iechad-Remoket, left, Tommy Oly and John Guagliardo with Hawaii Loa Ridge Preserve have begun clearing the land, assessing the risk of rockfall and evaluating the restoration of indigenous plants.