EXCLUSIVE: DHHL threatens to evict charity

Published: Dec. 18, 2013 at 3:58 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2014 at 4:00 PM HST
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A Waimanalo charity that helps disabled children may be kicked off of its property.

The Manawalea Riding Center's landlord is the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which has been cracking down on lease violations.

"One of the first letters is that I had is that if I'm not in compliance in X amount of days, I'll be evicted," said Ben Char, the riding center's president.

Since 1995, Char has leased two acres of agricultural land in Waimanalo from the DHHL. There, he operates a therapeutic horse riding center that serves more than 1,200 autistic, wheel chair-bound and other severely disabled children and adults each year.

But earlier this year, the DHHL threatened to evict Manawalea alleging it improperly stored construction equipment and erected illegal structures.

But Char and the center's board members said the eviction notices come in spite of years of approvals from DHHL staffers, who were aware of the industrial uses.

Patti Silva, a longtime Manawalea director, said disabled children will be hurt the most.

"We provide an opportunity for these children that are wheel chair bound for their entire lives and spent their entire lives hearing you can't do this and you can't do that," Silva said.

"I think (losing the center) would be a tremendous loss."

The move comes as the DHHL is overhauling its revocable permit program after it was heavily criticized for lax oversight and mismanagement.

The DHHL said Char is in clear violation of his lease.

"The industrial uses are completely outside of what is allowable and what is agreed upon," said DHHL spokesman Punialoha Chee.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission heard testimony at its monthly meeting today but told its staff to continue discussions with Manawalea before taking any final action.

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