I'm still pondering West Hawaii Today's story last Thursday, about the two prospective buyers who toured the Hamakua properties that the county wants to sell. Members of the Kenoi administration have repeatedly told me that the land is expected to remain in agriculture, since it was zoned that way -- though finance director Nancy Crawford did say that it depended on one's definition of "agriculture."
"Is a gentleman farmer a farmer?" she asked.
But the two prospective buyers, Marc Mishkin of Ka'u and Joe Steinbach of Colorado, don't exactly sound like farmers. To quote Nancy Cook Lauer's article, for instance:
"Steinbach and Mishkin were more interested in the smaller parcels than the more mauka larger ones, and they seemed satisfied that some of the smaller ones offered ocean views that made the land desirable..."
Huh? Since when did an ocean view make a parcel more desirable as farmland? Do orange trees produce better if they can see the ocean? Do dracaena or mac nuts or coffee trees or corn grow taller so they can peer over the heads of their neighbors at that gorgeous blue water?
At least, according to Lauer, the prospective buyers did as "question related to what kind of fruit trees or crops the land would support." But they also asked "when the ocean-view blocking eucalyptus trees would be harvested."
A farmer would have been more concerned with whether the trees blocked sunlight from hitting his soil in the early morning or late afternoon.
Kenoi and his minions have argued that one reason to sell to sell the lands, which have been nothing but weeds since the county acquired them, is to get them back into production. But if at least one of the two prospective buyers has the winning bid, it's apt to stand idle for quite a while longer.
"We're looking at holding onto the land a couple of years, at least," said Mishkin, according to the article; he admitted to Lauer that "Investment is his primary interest."
In other words, Mishkin is a land speculator, pure and simple: he wants to buy the land cheap from the county and sell it at a big markup, as other speculators have done in the past. As Councilmember Dominic Yagong has pointed out, the county sold one such parcel, adjacent to Mud Lane in Hamakua, for $1.3 million. Then the county improved Mud Lane, substantially increasing the land's value.
"Within a few months, that thing was on the market for six or seven million dollars," Yagong said.
The taxpayers were out the cost of a major road job, and the speculator was in the black by an five or six hundred percent.
And there are no covenants in the County's Purchase And Sale Agreement for the lands that would restrict the new owner from rezoning the property to put in another subdivision, once the price of real estate starts going back up.
Is anybody else's shibai alarm going off?