EXCLUSIVE: Pushed out for rail, a Kakaako business owner fears he'll lose everything
KAKAAKO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Using eminent domain, the city can claim property to build the Honolulu rail transit project. The law also allows property owners the right to take legal action if they think they're not getting a fair deal.
But a Kakaako business owner says by the time he gets his day in court, it could be too late.
"I don't think it's fair. It's not just compensation," said Bryan Hoernig, the owner of Honolulu Hardwoods, who says the city isn't respecting his rights. "They're just telling you to get out," he said.
For more than a year now, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and Hoernig have been going back and forth over what Honolulu Hardwoods' 10,000-square foot property is worth.
HART started with a $2.2 million offer, but Hoernig's appraiser said his lot was worth $3.7 million.
HART responded with a $3.1 million offer, but only if Hoernig gave up his right to keep fighting. Hoernig refused, saying neighbors were getting paid more -- so he asked for $4.35 million, not including relocation costs. HART declined and took him to court, where transit officials successfully got the property condemned. The city now owns Honolulu Hardwoods' lot after paying Hoernig $2.2 million.
HART officials say they need Hoernig's property. Plans indicate tracks will run right over the top of the lot and a pillar is expected to replace the main building.
But the owner of Honolulu Hardwoods says he hasn't been offered enough money to relocate without his business suffering.
During a walk-through of his lumberyard and mill, Hoernig explained his predicament. "This machine right here is a gang rip saw," he said. "It weighs in excess of 12,000 pounds." Getting the equipment moved to a new facility is expensive -- and Hoernig doesn't know how he'll cover the costs to move.
Hoernig was served with an eviction notice a month ago, and he knows HART could show up any day and force him out.
"We would have to do some scrambling to try to get out of the contract that we're in right now, but without a manufacturing plant it would pretty much shut down Honolulu Hardwoods altogether," he said.
Dan Grabauskas, executive director and CEO for Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said he knows the rail project hasn't been easy on business owners.
"Whether its the price of the property or the amount of money we give for relocation -- the tough balancing act is that we're supposed to protect the interest of the owner as much as possible, as well as the taxpayer as much as possible. That's the high wire that we walk on," Grabauskas said.
Hoernig said he could continue to fight in court, "but by that time Honolulu Hardwoods will have closed."
"We won't have anything. We don't have anywhere to move to, because we don't have money to buy the property,"
Hoernig says the amount he got from HART isn't enough to pay off his mortgage, purchase a new lot and cover the cost of the move up front -- an estimated $300,000, which is reimbursed 100 percent.
"Relocating to no location is actually -- it's hard to sleep at night at times. Not knowing what we got," he said.
Prior to learning HART would need this property for rail, Hoernig says he planned to renovate his mill and lumberyard into a mixed-use 16-story building with Honolulu Hardwoods downstairs and a parking garage and apartments for seniors upstairs.
"This just pulled the rug from underneath us, because now we didn't have the right to do that development and we have time, effort and money obviously in trying to develop this property and now we're basically getting evicted," Hoernig said.
Grabauskas said HART's aim is to be sensitive.
"These folks didn't ask us to knock on their door," he said. "We're really going to try to do as best as we can -- but the public has also said, build this project so we need to have the property available," said
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