Nuuanu Dowsett Highlands: Development or Mal-development?

Malcolm Ing MD
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Malcolm Ing MD

BY MALCOLM R. ING MD  – I like, so many of my neighbors, fought  to restrict the development of the Dowsett Highlands area of Nuuanu  because we were and are still concerned about the steep slopes, copious rainfall and the loss of the natural vegetation which absorbs this  moisture. The concerns of the Nuuanu Valley Asscociation(NVA) were expressed to the Department of Planning and Permitting  (DPP)of the City and County(C&C)  through the Nuuanu Valley Association (NVA). An incomplete NVA victory of sorts was the result of a lawsuit against the C&C with the land owner, Laumaka LLC named as Intervenor-Appellee.   In this 2008 Hawaii Supreme Court decision, the Court ruled in favor of the NVA. It ruled that the NVA did, indeed, have the right to review the Laumaka “file”. It said, “Accordingly, all of the DPP’s files which include the Laumaka “file” are public records and may be examined on request.”

Following the initiation of the Laumaka (Dowsett Estate)  development  by the Nan construction Company, both associated with a prominent developer, Patrick Shin, the residents of the  Dowsett  Highlands area have witnessed extensive deforestation and up -rooting of natural land cover. The natural land cover for steep slopes has been replaced by large areas of planted grass land on dirt mounds, ponding, basins, and large retaining walls. It is the safety of these walls with the almost constant natural moisture and heavy nocturnal rainfall that is the central concern of the Nuuanu residents.  One resident, in particular, Dr. Abidin Kaya, a soils engineer, had expressed his concerns to the C&C about the soil testing in construction of a large retaining wall built by the developer behind his house over two years ago. Since that time, both he and his neighbor have experienced trees falling on their property and cracks in their home foundations. He has reported such damage to the DPP, whose response was that any damage was an issue between property owners and the developer.


In response to Councilwoman, Tulsi Gabbard’s request to address the concerns of the residents of Nuuanu, the Director of the DPP, Mr. David Tanoue, attended the recent Nuuanu Neighborhood Board Meeting on March 20, 2012. It was at this meeting that the Director heard the serious complaints about the development from various residents. Staff persons from the offices of the Mayor and Councilmember Gabbard were present and Representatives Corrine Ching and Sylvia Luke also attended the meeting. Delays in the issue of stop work orders after the on- site inspector’s creation of the violations of the building  permitting against the Nan company were reported lasting up to 3 to 4 weeks before a stop work order was executed. The director said he was surprised to hear that one of his on- site inspectors reported that the developer refused to accept the physical delivery of notices on more than one occasion.

In a January 2012 letter to the membership of the NVA, the former president of that organization, John Harrison stated: “The Nuuanu mauka land development is a clear example of a willful violation of fundamental geological and  hydrological principles.” He warned that, “At some time in the future, natural weathering processes on and surrounding the Dowsett Estates property will trigger one or more catastrophic failures that will precipitate a landform instability event resulting in severe property damage within the neighborhood.

The concerns of the Nuuanu residents have been shared with three consecutive Honolulu Mayoral administrations, (Hannemann, Caldwell, and Carlisle) without the anticipated relief. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that, for these Honolulu residents, the current Mayoral race is definitely not reduced to a single issue (rail or no rail) after all.

Malcolm R. Ing, MD is a resident of Nuuanu since 1966