HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An ownership dispute of a 10,000-square foot segment of Queen Street in Kakaako is raising concerns over further delays to Honolulu's rail transit project.
Area businesses say the property, which is the size of about two basketball courts, is owned by the city. But a private landowner known as Kakaako Land Co. says it owns the street and is embroiled in a heated legal battle with the businesses.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is seeking an easement for the Queen Street property, which lies between Cummings and Kamakee streets.
The rail project is supposed to be built over that part of the road, connecting Honolulu Area Rapid Transit's Ward Avenue station to its final destination at Ala Moana Center.
"Kakaako Land has applied a lot of resources to challenging the adjoining property owners who have filed the lawsuit," attorney and HART board member Terrence Lee said, during a Nov. 24 board meeting.
"Kakaako Land is committed to fight to the death because it's worth a lot of money to them."
An attorney for Kakaako Land did not return calls. But in their 2014 lawsuit, the businesses said that an extensive search of Honolulu property records shows that the company's claim for the property is based merely on a quit-claim deed the brothers executed in 1985.
The quit claim deed alleges to transfer ownership of the property to Kakaako Land but critics said that claim is bogus because the Queen Street and other roads in Kakaako had been under the ownership of the state for years.
The suit says that the company has used that claim to ticket and even tow away cars owned by businesses who didn't pay them to park on streets.
"They're a bunch of scammers to me," said Cliff Garcia, owner of Tropical Lamp and Shade Co., one of the companies that sued. "We've been fighting it. I know some businesses have given in and are paying a monthly fee for parking, which is ridiculous to me."
During the last board meeting, rail officials voted to initiate condemnation proceedings, to ensure that there's no cloud over the ownership.
"Usually that's done ex-parte, so no hearing is held. So that's pretty quick," said HART Deputy Director Morris Atta.
Hart officials worry about even more delays to rail construction if they're sucked into an ongoing legal battle between the small businesses and Kakaako Land.
That case is expected to go to trial next October.
Mobile users: See a slideshow of simulations of the rail in Honolulu here.