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Leilani to drop lawsuit

The Leilani Estates Community Association plans to drop its lawsuit against Hawaii County over control of Leilani Avenue.

Attorney Mike Garbarino, who is representing the association, said he signed a stipulation to drop the case without prejudice Dec. 22. As of Wednesday, the federal suit remained active, according to U.S. District Court, where it was filed.

Jay Turkovsky, association president, said the board is dropping the litigation — which sought to prevent the county from removing a security checkpoint on Leilani Avenue, in addition to granting the association control of the public road — because it hasn’t produced results.

“We’re effectively getting nowhere with it, without a protracted legal battle,” he said.

The court last month declined to grant a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the county from removing the checkpoint, which was removed Dec. 6. The checkpoint was put in place as the Kilauea eruption devastated the lower portion of the subdivision and other parts of Puna from May through August.

The lawsuit, filed in November, was based on concerns that, without anyone controlling access, the subdivision would become a focal point for tourists hoping to see the results of the eruption, in addition to vacant homes becoming targets for burglaries or squatters. Board members expressed interest in installing a gate on Leilani Avenue to control access, an idea that it hasn’t abandoned.

While the association is working with police on the squatter issue, Turkovsky said the loss of the checkpoint has resulted in people trespassing on private property, which board members think puts property owners and the association at a liability risk.

Not all think those concerns justify installing a gate.

Phil Denney is a Leilani resident and part of a group of 19 property owners that filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, against the association. The group includes residents of both Leilani section 1, which is not part of the association, and section 2, which is.

“I don’t want to live behind a gate,” he said.

“This is Puna. This is not Pacific Palisades.”

Denney, who lives in section 2, said concerns about uncontrolled access have been overblown.

“Our point of view is the board of directors of the Leilani community association have used this as a pretext to make this an exclusive enclave,” he said.

“Our point of view is we want to be open and inclusive. We want to be welcoming.”

The association has asked members to vote on the issue of installing a gate, which requires control of Leilani Avenue, the only public road in the neighborhood. The road used to go through the neighborhood, but now dead-ends at the lava flow field.

Turkovsky said those votes have not been counted yet.

If a majority support that option, he said the association could revisit gaining control of the road through the County Council. A resolution to hand over temporary control of the road failed last November.

The fact that property owners are voting on the issue might address some of the concerns, he said.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who took office last month, said introducing another resolution could be an option, depending on the results of the vote.

“I would want to sit with corporation counsel and the mayor, and get everyone a seat at the able, and talk about what we can do,” she said.

“Folks are definitely split,” Kierkiewicz acknowledged. “There are a lot of mixed views.”

Mayor Harry Kim said he had not been officially notified about the association’s intent to drop the lawsuit.

If the lawsuit is dropped without prejudice, that would give the association the option of refiling it.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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