WAIPIO (HawaiiNewsNow) - After more than 20 years of planning, economic downturns and legal challenges, the massive Koa Ridge development kicked off Thursday.
Gov. David Ige, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and other dignitaries attended a groundbreaking ceremony, and praised the $2 billion project. Billionaire David Murdock, Castle & Cooke's 94-year-old chairman, also made a rare appearance.
"I'm happy to fly in here. I have my own plane and it's easy for me. I don't have to wait and stand in line like many people," quipped Murdock.
"I happen to have my own hangar out at the airport."
The master-planned community is expected to add around 3,500 homes between Waipio and Mililani. Development officials said prices haven't been determined yet, but they have committed to making nearly a third of them affordable.
Castle & Cooke said it plans to invest more than $500 million in road upgrades, new sewer and water lines and other infrastructure projects.
"When we first started talking about ... how much I would have to spend here, I said that scares me," said Murdock.
"But you can't be scared when you spend billions of dollars and I spend that all the time around the world."
Under Castle & Cooke's plans, Koa Ridge will also have 500,000 square feet of commercial space, an elementary school and a new hospital.
The contentious project has taken years to clear regulatory proceedings, lawsuits and other legal challenges.
Castle & Cooke got its initial approval from the state Land Use Commission in 2002. The final approval came via a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling last year.
Opponents like the Sierra Club objected to converting prime, usable farmland into a housing and retail development. In response, project officials have promised to relocate agriculture on the site to farmland near Wahiawa.
The critics also said the project will create a nightmares for Central Oahu commuters.
"It's a terrible idea to put more houses out there in the area where can't provide adequate means of transportation for people," said Eric Seitz, attorney for the Sierra Club.
Castle & Cooke said the legal challenges are increasing Hawaii's housing costs.
"They sue again, sue again and sue again. All's it done is not only delayed us but delayed Hoopili and other projects," said Harry Saunders, president of Castle & Cooke Hawaii.
"When I got my first approval in 2002, the cost of a home was $350,000. Today's it's over $760,000. So 15 years of delay, double the price,"
Construction of the first homes is expected to begin late next year and should be finished by mid-2019, but the entire development is expected to take about 10 years to complete.