Land offering splits Moloka'i [pronounced "moh-loh-kah-eeh"]
By Andrew Gomes
When wealthy computer security guru John McAfee put down roots on Moloka'i a few years ago, residents embraced him for his generous community contributions. But now the part-time resident is drawing fire from Friendly Isle kama'aina over his offer to sell 1,046 acres as a development opportunity.
McAfee recently offered his Moloka'i property near Kawela for sale through an Alabama-based auction firm touting the agricultural and conservation land as having excellent development potential, spectacular home sites, a sandy beach and ancient Hawaiian fishponds.
The offering, advertised in the Wall Street Journal recently as "John McAfee's Historic Oceanfront Plantation," has caused a backlash against the benevolent view of McAfee among some Island residents.
"I think he's selling us out," said Judy Egusa, a Moloka'i native whose family started Friendly Market some 50 years ago. "We thought he was here to stay. Now we feel he came to make money."
McAfee, 60, said he's not a real estate speculator or developer, and is only selling the property because of frustrating delays and difficulty in trying to build a couple of homes for himself and his family there.
"I'm trying to find quiet places in this world to build a home for me and my family, to read the paper, play chess and be in the sun," he said.
McAfee added that he hasn't seen the advertisement and isn't involved with the property's promotion, and it would be up to a new owner to determine use of the land.
Moloka'i residents have long been vocal opponents of efforts to create large-scale development or commercialization that often presents a trade-off between improving the island's feeble economy and eroding its rural nature.
Two years ago, protesters headed off a plan for cruise ships to call at Moloka'i. More recently, there has been heated debate over a plan by Moloka'i Ranch to develop 200 luxury home sites at La'au Point on the southwest coast and rehabilitate Kaluako'i Resort.
Residents said they had the impression that McAfee, who founded the computer virus defense maker McAfee Associates now known as McAfee Inc., moved to Moloka'i to revel in the quiet, slow pace of a different lifestyle — not as a real estate speculator.
"It's kind of a slap in the face for people who have been very welcoming," said Mahealani Davis, a Hilo native who has lived on Moloka'i for about 30 years. "For him to put a prime place on the market and advertise it in such a crude way — ancient Hawaiian fishponds, John McAfee's historic oceanfront plantation — it makes one feel defensive."
The 1,046 acres for sale, according to marketing materials from the National Auction Group Inc. of Gadsden, Ala., includes 5 percent ownership of Kawi'u fishpond and a 10 percent stake in Panahaha fishpond.
The auction is scheduled for March 10, and states that the property will be sold regardless of price with no minimum.
Interest in residential property on Moloka'i has heated up in the past few years as real estate markets on other islands boom with record prices driven in part by demand from wealthy second-home buyers from the Mainland.
"People are aware that with the real estate market being the way it is, Moloka'i has been very attractive because we've kept it the way it is," Davis said. "The word got out."
Residents like Roxanne French, who lives next to McAfee's undeveloped property, worry that investors bidding up prices of rural property on the island will increase property taxes and further stress scarce water resources.
McAfee, who has been described in press accounts as somewhat of a recluse with an estimated fortune of $100 million or more, bought his large tract of Moloka'i land in July 2003 for about $1.3 million, according to property records. He also bought a 5-acre parcel on the west side of the island.
Last year, McAfee ran into trouble with the state Department of Land & Natural Resources, which fined him $13,150 for building a seawall, a road and removing trees on his conservation-zoned land without authorization.
McAfee also was cited for having an unauthorized dwelling that was built on the property by a previous owner. McAfee since has removed the dwelling and the wall, and remediated the road work, according to DLNR.
But residents know McAfee more for the contributions he made to the community such as donating computers to the local high school, paying for newspaper ads to fight drug abuse and sponsoring a cash-prize essay contest for children.
Crystal Egusa, who runs Friendly market with her sister Judy, said McAfee also bought a steer at a children's fund-raiser and hired local contractors for construction work. "I had all kinds of good things to say (about McAfee)," she said. "The (property advertisement) was a real blow. I was shocked. We like to have people come here and become part of the community. We're trying to preserve the island in its original form."
McAfee was disappointed that residents have fed on what he said are rumors that he intends to build hundreds of homes and a boat harbor. "I want to live quietly, live in peace ... mind my own business and enjoy the sea air," he said. "I have no intention other than to build a house for myself and my family."
The software engineer said he's committed to building that home on his west Moloka'i property despite more than two years of frustrating permit delays. "I'm not going to be run off," he said.
Seen at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2005/Jan/28/bz/bz03p.html
Cross-posted to abouthawaii