It's a five-house CPR project being developed by Jim Fields, who wants to plant native hardwoods on 30 acres nearest Kuhio Highway and deed the heiau to a community group. Fields also owns the six-acre parcel across from the entrance to Princeville, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has long eyed as the site for a new Hanalei Valley scenic overlook. Jim says he would be receptive to selling the lot to the federal agency “if it's something the community supports.”
While the overlook proposal has been repeatedly rejected by the community, what's currently meeting resistance is Jim's plan to sell house lots — priced at $2 million to $3 million — on either side of the heiau. Pooku is a luakini heiau traditionally used for training in celestial navigation and lua, an ancient form of Hawaiian martial arts.
“This is like the origins of our culture, where our culture was born,” says Kaimi Hermosura, a Wainiha resident who is trained in both lua and celestial navigation. “You're talking about sea-faring navigation, the guys who set up the calendar for us from places like this.”
Jim has proposed creating a 7-acre heiau preserve that includes the two-acre summit of a steep hill that has expansive vistas and a five-acre surrounding buffer. But Kaimi maintains the heiau, which has a line of sight that extends to Kilauea and Makana, is much larger than that, and the proposed house sites encroach on it.
“It's a place of high spiritual activity,” Kaimi says. “You can't just build on it and think nothing will happen.”
Kaimi and others became upset when they saw driveways being poured near signs that prohibit vehicles and urge people to "please respect this sacred site." The signs reportedly have recently been removed.
But Jim says the signs were "just put there" by the state and it's unclear exactly where the boundaries of the heiau lie. The State Historic Preservation Division has no maps of the ancient cultural site. Jim's taking the approach of “treat the whole top as a sacred area, with five acres around it as a buffer, going down the slope” toward Hanalei Valley. He has created an entity to accept the “cultural preserve.” Its members include, among others, Randy Wichman, Canen Hookano, Roland Sagum and Stuart Hollinger, a nursery owner and former county planning commissioner who has been hired for the reforestation project at the corner of Kapaka Road and Kuhio Highway.
“Is he working with the (local) families?” Kaimi asks. “Did he have a meeting with the families on this side of the island? He was informed of the need to do so. Did they do the proper protocol to acknowledge the people of this place? It's different than a blessing.”
Kaimi says proper protocol must be followed in dealing with important cultural sites to protect people from harm. “That's why we have protocol, because we care and want to make sure people don't get hurt,” he says. “But people don't understand that and think it's just bullshit.”
Jim, who owns 175 acres of mostly conservation land that extends from Kuhio Highway well mauka of the end of Kapaka Road, seems eager to extract himself from the cultural issues, saying that's why he created an entity to oversee the preserve.
But Kaimi says Jim can't remove himself from the responsibility and ramifications of developing the area around the heiau. “You've gotta be pono or you're gonna have the living and the dead coming after you,” he says.
In addition to deeding the seven acres to a charitable organization, Jim has written the CPR rules to include a provision that the five house owners must together contribute $15,000 annually to the nonprofit to help maintain the heiau.
The rules also call for houses to be set back from the rim and use screening vegetation to minimize the visual impact from Hanalei Valley, though he acknowledges it's likely that some lights will be seen from the valley.
When I pointed out that CC&R rules are frequently ignored, can be easily altered by a majority of the CPR members and require legal action for enforcement, Jim said he would be willing to look at ways to ensure the homeowners can't wiggle out of their fiscal responsibility to the heiau.
Jim is also planning to make “a small secured parking area with a porta-potty, tool shed, shade house for native plant propagation and possibly an open hale” at the base of the heiau, just off Kapaka Road. The site will be fenced.
“There will be controlled access,” Jim says. “We don't want it to be a tourist attraction.”
Stuart says plans call for clearing the hau, strawberry guava and other invasive plants from the heiau and conducting educational programs.
Jim says that no one expressed an interest in Pooku during the many years that Princeville owned the site, and rubbish had been dumped there over the years.
But Kaimi says he and others do conduct ceremonies there, and he has participated in celestial navigation exercises with the Polynesian Voyaging Society there. “They say we don't care but we still go up there and do offerings,” he says. “Just leave it alone.”
One option could be moving the house sites further mauka, but that would take them out of the agricultural district and into the conservation district, where Jim is hoping to get state approval for a sixth house site. The current location maximizes the views of Hanalei Bay that add to the economic value of the house sites. The sites also look down on the taro fields in the Hanalei Wildlife Refuge.
This is the first development project under taken by Jim, who says he has invested all of his retirement money into it. He says he was initially told by Realtors and attorneys that he could have the lots for sale within six months, but the project is now moving into its third year. Because it is a CPR, no public hearings are required.