City Council panel votes to safeguard blood bank’s land — The city’s rail project sought to condemn a strip of the property

(Via Star Advertiser)

The Blood Bank of Hawaii could soon find itself free of the threat of eminent domain for its main donor site in Kalihi — and in a better position to negotiate with Honolulu rail officials.

The two parties have clashed in recent months over whether rail’s 2,861-square-foot take of the approximately 21,780- square-foot property, along with 1,591 square feet needed during construction, would require the blood bank to relocate. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation last month launched the process to possibly condemn the sliver of property that it needs for the rail transit project.

However, last week members of the Honolulu City Council took the unprecedented step of rebuffing a HART eminent domain request.

The Council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, which is composed of all nine Council members, on Tuesday approved a resolution that objects to the rail agency’s using eminent domain to take part of the blood bank’s primary donor center on Dillingham Boulevard.

The resolution, 15-221, goes further and instructs HART to suspend any condemnation activity for the blood bank property. It now goes before the full Council for final approval.

“I hope they can reach a resolution” without eminent domain, Council Chairman Ernie Martin said Tuesday. He described eminent domain as a powerful tool that favors those seeking condemnation. The tool would put the blood bank at a disadvantage at a time when many see the city as having done little to help businesses affected by the rail, Martin added.

Some 44 properties along the rail line currently face full or partial condemnation, and in most of those cases the property owners and rail officials haven’t been able to agree on a price for the acquisition, according to project officials. (In at least two of the cases, eminent domain is being used to resolve confusion over the land title, they add.) Thirty-two of the properties facing eminent domain, including the blood bank’s main donor center, have been presented to the Council so far. The rest should come before the HART board and City Council at upcoming public meetings.

So far no property has been taken for the rail project. The case that came the closest was settled on the courthouse steps, rail officials say.

Records show that HART offered the blood bank $421,965 for the stretch that it needs. But blood bank officials have previously said that the organization will suffer permanent damage as a result of rail construction and that it should be paid $3 million to move.

“We appreciate the support of the City Council in recognizing the vital role Blood Bank of Hawaii plays in the state’s public health system as the sole provider of blood … and their understanding the impact rail construction has on our operation,” blood bank CEO Kim-Anh Nguyen said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

HART Deputy Executive Director Brennon Morioka told Council members that rail officials hope to visit the site next week to further evaluate the situation. He described their most recent conversations as “very cooperative.”

“We’re trying to find that happy medium” where HART minimizes its impact on the blood bank and is able to provide necessary assistance, Morioka said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out what is eligible, what is not” — and what HART might be able to offer to the blood bank.

The Council’s resolution against blood bank condemnation would be its latest in a series of moves geared to show that the Council is scrutinizing the $6 billion rail transit project, following the sudden announcement in December that rail faces a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall.

Earlier this year the Council replaced HART board member Keslie Hui with attorney Terrence Lee. During the board member selection process, Lee’s responses to questions about Council oversight were described as more favorable.

The moves come ahead of the Council’s final vote on whether to pass Bill 23, which would extend the general excise tax surcharge that’s funding rail an additional five years to cover the budget shortfall. Martin has said the Council is in no rush and has until June 30 to make a decision.

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