In the Spring of 2011, Sunset Ranch was contacted by the land owner of approximately 212 acres of land in Pupukea on the North Shore of Oahu.  As it turns out, the land is the largest remaining developable acreage in Pupukea, and surrounds one of Oahu’s most important cultural sites:  Pu’u O Mahuka.  While existing zoning allows for a 77-lot subdivision; the land owner inquired about the possibilities of protecting the land.  The great thing about this story?  The land owner had visited Sunset Ranch, read about how Sunset Ranch was forever protected, and subsequently contacted us inquiring as to whether or not a conservation easement could work for him.  After several months of meetings, in addition to quite a bit of work to determine the value and structure of a possible deal, we’re happy to say that the land owner has agreed to pursuing a conservation easement on the property.  Sunset Ranch is assisting the land owner through the entire process.

In order to understand just how important it is to protect this land, we want to provide you with the following “project value considerations”: (i) Property History and Location, (ii) Conservation Plan (land owner’s vision), (iii) Project Sponsorship, (iv) Preliminary Valuation and Deal Structure, and (v) Community Support.

(i) Property History and Location

We provide some good background on Pu’u O Mahuka in a previous blog.  We encourage you to read it so that you have a clear understanding of its place in Hawaiian history.  You can access the blog here.  As far as the history of the land surrounding Pu’u O Mahuka?  Our knowledge begins in the early part of the 20th century.  The land was primarily used for cattle ranching, pineapple farming and a mix of agricultural uses.  In recent decades past, less and less of the land was used for active agricultural purposes primarily due to the high costs associated with farming.  The economics simply didn’t make sense for the previous land owner.  As a result, more and more of the land began to sit fallow and invasive plants slowly started to take over.  We are excited to now be working with the current land owner to:  (i) perpetually protect the land, and (ii) reestablish active agricultural and outdoor uses for the benefit of the community and public.

Please understand that the property has panoramic views of the entire northwest side of the island, and is surrounded by some of the largest preserves in Hawaii.  These characteristics alone, make this property of significant value, especially under a theoretical development scenario.  Here is a brief summary of the lands surrounding this special piece of property:

Pu’u O Mahuka is adjacent the Property on the west end of the bluff.  As stated previously, Pu’u O Mahuka is one of the most important cultural sites on Oahu and its importance is reason alone to protect the land surrounding it.  Pu’u O Mahuka was officially identified as a National Historic Landmark in 1962.  While the State of Hawaii, Parks Division, owns the heiau and a very small buffer around it; the land owner is agreeable to providing State Parks additional acreage around the heiau, something the State has been looking for since statehood. The additional buffer has already been identified and will not be included in the conservation easement.  This leaves approximately 195 acres for the conservation easement.

National Marine Sanctuary. The property is located just east of the National Marine Sanctuary and has spectacular unobstructed views of the entire area.   The Sanctuary is a conservation district (NOAA) that extends from Waimea Bay to Sharks Cove and slightly beyond. It is home to a variety of marine animals, corals, and plants and it is well documented that the sanctuary constitutes one of the world’s most important habitats for the endangered North Pacific humpback whale.

Waimea Valley comprises approximately 1875 acres of historic Hawaiian land and is located just south and southeast of the property.  Waimea Valley was acquired in June of 2006 and is currently protected by a conservation easement: forever protected as one of Hawaii’s most valuable cultural sites and botanical gardens.  Due to the significance of Pu’u O Mahuka in relation to Waimea Valley, the current owner of the valley has provided us with a Letter of Support for this project.

Pupukea-Paumalu. The property lies south, southwest of the Pupukea-Paumalu site.  Pupukea-Paumalu comprises approximately 1129 acres of Hawaiian land purchased by an investment consortium in June of 2007 and is now also permanently protected with a conservation easement.  Ownership of the Pupukea-Puamalu land is divided between the State of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu.  The North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) is currently working with the State to establish a curatorship agreement and help oversee the uses of the land.  NSCLT is also extremely supportive of our efforts to protect the property, and has also provided a Letter of Support.

A Charitable Foundation Corp. There are three parcels of land approximating ninety-four acres adjacent the Property to the south and southeast.  These parcels are currently owned by A Charitable Foundation Corp. and are in the process of being preserved and subsequently donated to the State for public use.  This land will therefore soon be accessible to the public for trail hikes along the north ridgeline of Waimea Valley.  The subject property, if protected, will effectively serve as a buffer zone between the residential community of Pupukea and this land.  A representative of A Charitable Foundation Corp. has also provided us with a Letter of Support for the project.

(ii) Conservation Plan

We will providing more details here in a future blog.  For now, it is important to know that the land owner is committed to not only permanently protecting the property, but transforming it through the thoughtful implementation of a conservation plan.    His long term vision for the property is to reestablish a large portion of it to active agricultural use, servicing the community of Pupukea in addition to visitors to Hawaii.  He hopes to provide an interactive experience that will focus on educating the public to productive agricultural methods that include environmental learning stations and outdoor food tasting stations.  His vision also calls for: (i) increasing acreage to dedicated pasture and grazing lands, (ii) a forest restoration project, and (ii) expanding and enhancing existing equine activities.  We adamantly believe that these efforts will dramatically transform the property into a site that fosters growth of community interest and involvement in land conservation and sustainability.

(iii) Project Sponsorship

The Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (HILT) has reviewed this project in detail, and is excited about sponsoring it through the funding process to ensure its perpetual protection.  Furthermore, HILT will be responsible for the enforcement of the conservation easement on the property once recorded.  This effort will be supported by the establishment of a stewardship fund that will be funded by the land owner.  HILT will conduct annual site visits and ensure compliance with the conservation easement, as drafted and executed.  To learn more about HILT, please check out their web-site here.

(iv) Preliminary Valuation and Deal Structure

A preliminary range of value has been delivered by John Child & Company, a well known appraiser in Honolulu.  John Child & Company has been involved with numerous conservation easement projects throughout Hawaii and clearly understands that the success of these projects often hinges on the estimate of value.  The land owner understands the restrictions a conservation easement will place on the property, he has accepted the preliminary range of value, and perhaps most importantly, he is donating 25% of the conservation easement value to the project.  We hope to secure the remainder of the conservation easement funding through certain federal programs (50%) and the City and County’s Clean Water Natural Lands fund (25%).

(v) Community Support

Given the significance of the project, and in consideration of preliminary meetings with the following, we have received and are in the process of receiving Letters of Support from:  (i) Hi’ipaka (owner and operator of Waimea Valley), (ii) the North Shore Community Land Trust, (iii) a Charitable Foundation Corp, (iv) State Parks Division of the State of Hawaii, (v) the Sunset Beach Community Association, (vi) the North Shore Community Association, and (vii) local government officials, community members and surrounding land owners.

We hope after reviewing this Blog you agree that this is an important piece of land to protect.  We would love to hear your thoughts about this project.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions or if you’d like to discuss this project in more detail.  We can be reached at (808)638-8333 or  Mahalo nui loa for your support!

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