In the early 1900’s the Puna lands were used primarily for raising cattle. The land was marginal at best for farming and ranching, so in the late 1950’s the property owners decided to subdivide and sell off most of this land. The developer’s permits were issued for Orchidland Estates, Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaiian Acres, and several other subdivisions all at the same time. It should be noted that this “time” was before Hawaii became a state. By getting the permits under the rules of the Territory of Hawaii, the developers were able to avoid the more strict requirements of the U.S. Federal Government. We ended up with some huge subdivisions of ¼ to 3 acre parcels, agriculturally zoned, with private roads, and no utilities or services provided.
Priced at under 500 dollars, the parcels sold rather quickly, however, very few people became residents. Only those with a strong pioneering spirit were able to overcome the absence of phones, electricity, County water, road maintenance, and other services. We had catchment systems for water, generator and solar systems for electricity, and phones. Well, back then it did not seem like such a big deal to not have a phone. It should be noted that Hawaiian Tel was first to provide a utility service to the people of Orchidland. Road maintenance became the biggest issue. The developers had made beautiful red cinder roads, which, in the Puna rains, lasted just about long enough to take the picture. If you lived in Orchidland in the 60’s or 70’s, you were on your own and you knew it. The roads that weren’t used became overgrown, the roads that were used became washed out.
The biggest appeal of this area back then, and to a certain extent now, was the price. This land has always been the cheapest in Hawaii, and the only option for many folks who wanted to own a piece of the rock. Commonly, people would live in tents or shacks until the land was paid off, building their house a stick at a time or in a series of additions. The rustic nature was endearing. People were very proud to say, “It’s humble, but it’s mine”.
In 1979, some of the residents formed the Orchidland Community Association. Participation in this association was voluntary. It was a way to consolidate funds for road work, especially funds from off-island property owners. Before the association was formed, it was very difficult for a mainland property owner to contribute to road maintenance. The association was well received at first, taking in some very generous donations, however, about 2 years into it, the Treasurer ran off with all the money. Even though this happened over 25 years ago, and it was just one dishonest person, OLCA has never fully recovered from this breach of trust. To those who lost money or were here to witness it, the memory is still fresh. Each subsequent wrongdoing by the association has brought this first episode back to the surface, accompanied by a big, fat “I told you so”.
In the 1980’s, with little trust in the association, many residents continued with their own maintenance programs. When a new buyer bulldozed his lot, it was customary to have the bulldozer do some work on the roads. Rather than pay the association, people would buy a load or two of gravel or cinder and spread it with a shovel and rake. This was very cost-effective for the property owner in that 100% of his contribution went onto the road exactly where he wanted it. OLCA didn’t recognize any of this, what they saw was a low percentage of contributions to the association’s road maintenance fund.
In 1991 OLCA hired Hilo attorney Stuart Oda to sue all of the property owners in a class action to force them to pay mandatory road maintenance assessments to the association. OLCA prevailed and this judgment stands today. OLCA began using foreclosure to enforce the mandatory fees in 2006. This action was challenged by a property owner, and the judge ruled that foreclosures are an inappropriate action for our subdivision to collect fees. The appropriate procedure is to file an action with the court to get a judicial determination of the amount owed, and then attach a lien to the property for that amount. Foreclosure is not permitted.
During the ‘90’s OLCA experimented with test patches of chip-seal and cement, asphalt was too expensive. HELCO implemented its rural electrification plan that provided the option of grid power to all residents. Hawaiian Tel was staying ahead of HELCO. Property values did a jump and a dive. Mostly, Orchidland remained slow and peaceful, but a bit more convenient.
In the first half of the current decade we have experienced a rapid influx of newcomers, real estate sales, and inflated property values, much like the boom of the early ‘90’s. And now, in the latter half, we are seeing the same downward trend that followed. With the growth in population come certain problems, such as increased traffic, noise, flooding issues, and crime. The special assessments for paving that have been approved by the membership have nearly completed paving of the entry roads. Also funded by voluntary donations in 2001 was the purchase of the Orchidland Community Lot, the community gathering place, which will someday house and activities building, restrooms, playing field, playground, etc. These are things that will benefit the community for many years to come regardless of what the real estate market is doing.
OLCA has suffered some ups and downs over the years, but mostly the directors of OLCA have been good people trying to do what’s best for the community. We have tried to learn from past mistakes to insure that they don’t happen again. These are not paid positions, we are all volunteers. The current Board of Directors is committed to promoting more community participation, and working with the residents as much as possible.