A controversial bill that would expand residential development in Kaka'ako to the makai-side of Ala Moana Boulevard has advanced in the Legislature and is now headed to a House and Senate conference committee.
Trustees with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs say it's frustrating and downright unfair that Kaka'ako is building up around them, but the land they own and is off-limits for residential construction costing them millions still owed in unsettled ceded land claims.
"This is a matter of Hawaiians now own land and we don't really own the land, because there are all these restrictions about what we can and cannot do. This is kind of a matter of whether Hawaiians will ever be sovereign over their own land," explained Peter Apo, an OHA Trustee for the Island of O'ahu.
OHA wants lawmakers to lift a 2006 ban on residential development for three of their ten Kaka'ako makai lots, but opponents say it would cause over-development in an already densely populated area.
"We must stand up for the Hawaii that we want. This is sacred land, land that we love," said Sharon Moriwaki of Kaka'ako United during a rally against the bill at the State Capitol in January.
Lawmakers admit it's a complex issue.
"The question is whether there's a sufficient justification to reverse a law that we approved in 2006 that attempts to preserve open space on the makai side of Kaka'ako," House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said.
OHA accepted the land in a $200 million settlement from the state in 2012, but say current appraisals value the properties much higher if they are not limited to commercial use.
"I think if you buy or if you're given a parcel of land you would want to maximize its potential, it's just human nature. And that's what OHA wants to do and it is for the benefit of the beneficiaries that they serve, which is the Hawaiian people. So we in the Senate have no problem with that," said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.
Critics are worried the bill will limit waterfront and park access.
"We're all really concerned that OHA's route going down this road is a very rocky and a very poorly-designed one," explained Julia Brown Kawamoto of Na Kupuna Moku O Kakuhihewa during a rally along Ala Moana Boulevard in March.
Legislators say they've tried to strike a compromise by narrowing the scope of OHA's development exemption to only three lots that are not located along the shoreline.
"I really think that we owe it to OHA and to the Hawaiians to let them maximize their assets and try to do all they can to generate revenue. We have to remember too that OHA is unlike other developers that try to make residential in that area they are there for the public interest. They're there for a good cause," described Senator Maile Shimabukuro, who chairs the Senate committee on Hawaiian Affairs.
Senate leaders say even if the bill passes it doesn't automatically give OHA's residential development plans the green light. They say just like any other proposed project in the area, Hawaii Community Development Authority approval is still required. Legislators also say if the bill becomes law a resident fee will be assessed for a fund to secure and maintain the makai park area.