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Council mulls using eminent domain for affordable housing

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council will vote today on whether the county will use eminent domain to acquire a 23.5-acre parcel of land in Kilauea.

Resolution 2021-27 would authorize the County of Kaua‘i to seize the land for public use after negotiations between the county and the landowner dead-ended. The county plans to develop the property into a housing project.

Leland Bertsch, who owns the property, told The Garden Island in August that the county had offered to purchase the land for $3.6 to $4 million dollars. Bertsch described the offer as an insult, and said it “was not even in the ballpark” of what he believes it’s worth.

“What (the county) offered was a slap in the face,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch offered to sell the plot of land for $30 million, which is more than the county’s entire budget for infrastructure and construction projects for the current fiscal year, which stands at roughly $24.7 million. Bertsch stood by that number, saying that it reflected the value of the property and that he’s turned down offers from buyers at similar figures.

Bertsch also said that if the council votes to authorize the eminent domain acquisition, he will fight back.

“There’s going to be litigation no matter what,” he said.

The Contractors Association of Kaua’i expressed some concerns about the use of eminent domain to acquire the property.

“‘Taking’ of private property through eminent domain is a concern, especially of lands zoned for agricultural use,” the CAK said in written testimony submitted to the council.

“It appears to be contradictory for a county that advocates for farmers, sustainability, growing food for local consumption, etc., while at the same time it is wanting to acquire through a ‘taking’ some 23.5 acres of agriculture land from an unwilling seller, for affordable housing.”

The county will still be required to pay a fair-market price for the property as decided by a court-appointed assessor. Bertsch said he’s willing to sell the property, but not at the price the county previously offered.

According to past testimony from County Housing Agency Director Adam Roversi, the county will utilize $9 million in federal Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds from the devastating April 2018 floods to build workforce housing.

County Councilmember Luke Evslin said that he planned to vote in favor of using eminent domain to acquire the property, citing the full support of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association and the need for affordable housing on Kaua’i.

“The KNA fully supports the county’s effort to acquire this property through the eminent-domain process,” the association said in written testimony submitted in September. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help shape the future of Kilauea. The KNA and broader community is fully committed to supporting this process and will take any and all actions necessary to help the county succeed in its effort to acquire this property for the long-term benefits it will bring to Kilauea.”

Evslin said he would be “very surprised” if the council did not vote in favor of authorizing the acquisition.

Also on the agenda

• There is a request for additional funds to purchase a grader for use at the Kekaha Landfill. Troy Tanigawa, acting county engineer, is expected to request additional funds to purchase the more-expensive grader in lieu of a drum roller. The grader will cost an additional $151,000.

• The Kaua’i Police Department is requesting approval to receive and expend $44,481 in federal grant funds for use in “drug-related investigations, training, K9 supplies, communication equipment, eradication projects, and travel to other islands or joint operations with other law-enforcement agencies.”

• The council will also hear details on two legal claims against the county, both of which involve alleged damage to personal property.

• Several bills related to changes in Kaua‘i’s county code as it relates to transient accommodations and financial disclosures are also scheduled to be read.

• Bills 2822 and 2838 are set for first reading. Both regard changes to the state transient accommodations tax.

• Bill 2830 would define the type of employees required to file financial disclosures with the county Board of Ethics. That bill is scheduled for its second reading before the council.

A full copy of the council’s agenda and a link to livestream today’s meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m., can be found at


Kaleb Lay, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or​
Source: The Garden Island

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