J.Kalani English

Oprah, trainer buy land in Hana

They purchase ranch land, plan to build 3 houses near Hamoa Bay and at Lehoula

The Maui News
April 27, 2002

Staff Writer

HANA — Television host Oprah Winfrey and her friend and trainer Bob Greene are buying seven shoreline lots from Hana Ranch in the vicinity of Hamoa Bay and at Lehoula.

Bill Newsom, the trust administrator for one of the ranch’s principal owners, the Gordon P. Getty Family Trust, said Winfrey and Greene are just the kind of buyers the ranch owners had hoped to find — willing to put conservation issues first and to keep development low key.

They are planning only three houses. Two on two of six lots near Hamoa Beach, and one on a 102-acre lot at Lehoula, an open pasture area directly across Hana Highway from ranch headquarters.

Gideon Kaufman, legal representative to Winfrey, said it will be some time before any construction begins.

The house Winfrey plans for herself at Lehoula will be built so it does not interfere with the view plane to the ocean and Alau Island, a picturesque sea stack about 300 yards offshore. 

Maui officials said they welcomed the sale to Winfrey, based on the assurances that she did not plan major developments on the properties. 

“They told me that they want to preserve as much open space as they could. One house on 102 acres is a commitment to protecting the views,” Mayor James “Kimo” Apana said. 

State Sen. J. Kalani English, whose family home is at Hamoa, was enthusiastic but also curious how the new owners view the Hana community. 

“We’re very pleased that someone of her caliber and sensitivity to people has made a commitment to build a residence in Hamoa village,” he said. 

He said he understood the buyers understood the cultural significance of the area, including Lehoula, which he said is the site of the first Hawaiian fishpond and is where the technology of fishponds was perfected. 

Since Winfrey’s representatives have assured him that she will not only maintain view planes but provide for traditional fishing access to the shoreline, “this the best-case scenario,” English said. 

But he also offered a challenge to Winfrey and Greene, who has been Winfrey’s personal trainer: 

“We’d like to invite her to meet with the community. We’ll have a whole bunch of local food. Will she eat opihi? Will she eat raw fish? We’ll try her out,” he said. 

On one of the six small lots on the Mokae peninsula at Hamoa, Greene plans a house for himself, and Winfrey plans a guesthouse on another. The other four lots, including the one that features the disused Mokae Landing, will be left empty, Kaufman and Greene said. 

The new owners have assured the sellers that traditional shoreline and fishing access will be maintained. Also, the ranch will continue to graze cattle at Lehoula.

A letter from Newsom and Dan Omer, a Hana resident and chief operating officer for Hana Ranch Partners, was mailed to every post office box holder in Hana Friday explaining the deal.

The ranch partners, who bought the 4,500-acre ranch in January 2001, took pains at the time to assure the community that they had no interest in carving up the property. “We’re not interested in pursuing golf in Hana,” Newsom said at the time.

On the other hand, they had to come up with a plan to justify the $24 million price tag. That plan was, and is, to provide for construction of no more than 30 homes within the ranch.

A master plan to determine how to do this was just under way last year when Winfrey and Greene came on the scene.

That work was suspended while the sale of the seven lots was negotiated. Omer says the master plan work will now resume.

At first, Hana Ranch Partners offered one rocky shoreline lot at Mokae for sale to gain some working capital for the ranch, whose cattle operation needs investment.

Greene, who trained Winfrey for a marathon race, says he has been visiting Hana for nearly six years and wanted to buy property there. However, he was hesitant to buy the one Hamoa lot for sale, because he was not sure what would happen on the rest of the small, rocky point of land.

But when Winfrey expressed interest, the ranch entered discussions to sell more land.

“They (Winfrey and Greene) were of similar mind as far as conservation and the environment were concerned,” says Newsom.

On one side of the six Hamoa lots is Hamoa Beach and on the other the family land of Bill John Medeiros. The buyers and the sellers talked to the Medeiros family and assured them that the sale would not interfere with their beach access. 

Survey showed that a wall used by the Medeiroses encroached on the six lots, but the buyers are not objecting to that.

Medeiros could not be contacted Friday.

North of the Hamoa peninsula, there is a half-mile of rocky coastline that includes Ka Iwi O Pele cinder cone and Lehoula Beach, which is the 102-acre lot being purchased by Winfrey for a house for herself.

According to Kaufman, she has agreed that the design will be nestled in a dell so that it will not be very noticeable from Hana Highway.

Archaeological surveys have been done, says Kaufman. On Mokae Point, the significant artifact is the old landing.

At Lehoula there are some minor sites, such as old walls, but the prime cultural feature is Ka Iwi O Pele, the bones of Pele, a cinder cone.

According to “Place Names of Hawaii,” this is where Kamapuaa ravished Pele and where her bones were left after her battle with her sister Namakaokahai.

According to Kaufman, there will be no building on the cinder cone. 

The new owners “want to be good neighbors,” he said.

On Friday morning, Newsom, Omer, Greene and Kaufman held meetings with Bob Carroll, the Hana residency member of the County Council, and with Mayor James “Kimo” Apana.

They also spoke by telephone with state Sens. J. Kalani English (who has an interest in land nearby) and Avery Chumbley, who represents Hana.

Given the rocky relations previous ranch owners have had with the community, Hana Ranch Partners was stepping carefully in announcing this sale — particularly since an “ill-founded” rumor began that the ranch was selling the land at Makaalae. 

Omer said the partners want to notify the community of steps they are taking. He said the rumor began because a real estate agency handling other Hana properties used an aerial photo of the Makaalae land in its sale brochure. 

“We are not selling Makaalae,” he said, which he described as “the jewel” of the ranch’s remaining shore property.

The partners are in discussion with Winfrey for one additional parcel (not identified), but “no other ranch properties are on the market.”

Once the sale to Winfrey and Greene is completed, the ranch has two priorities to accomplish this year, Omer and Newsom said.

One is to transfer acreage for affordable housing to an entity that would develop the housing. The second is to work out how to create the conservation easements that Hana Ranch Partners wants to permanently protect the open spaces of the ranch.

Omer’s other task has been to try to bring the cattle ranching operation closer to profitability. Although ranching has not been profitable on Maui in recent years, Newsom says the plan is to keep running cattle indefinitely.

He says the land sale, larger than originally contemplated, was “a big relief” to the partners because it reduced the large carrying costs of owning unremunerative property.

Greene, a physiologist, says he is no longer Winfrey’s daily trainer, since he now lives in California and Florida, but they have been friends since 1992 when he became her personal trainer. They are co-authors of a fitness book, “Make the Connection.”

He said he also has worked as a trainer and consultant with a number of professional athletes in Florida.

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