Residents oppose rezoning in Chalan Kanoa

COMMUNITY CONCERNS: Laly 4 resident and Refaluwasch chiefly clan member Lino Olopai, right, speaks as former Rep. Juan Tenorio listens during a press conference on Monday. Emmanuel T. Erediano/For The Guam Daily Post

SAIPAN — Local residents of Laly 4 in Chalan Kanoa and Refaluwasch community members in Saipan said they oppose Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands House Local Bill 21-42, which proposes to rezone, from village residential to tourist resort, a stretch of beachfront and residential areas from Sugar Dock to Chalan Kanoa Beach Hotel.

They said they will circulate a petition this week against the bill authored by Rep. Janet U. Maratita.

The bill is now being reviewed by the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations, which has started to conduct public hearings on the proposed legislation.

The delegation chairman, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, said the zoning office will conduct its own public hearing to give more members of the community the opportunity to share their thoughts about the proposal.

During the initial public hearing on Sunday at Laly 4, dozens of residents showed up to express their opposition to the bill.

H.L.B. 21-42 aims "to reduce the impediments" for tourist establishments to exist legally in Chalan Kanoa by allowing tourist-friendly businesses to exist in the designated areas approved for their operation by rezoning the area adjacent to and westward from Beach Road, then south of Sugar Dock from the intersection of Beach Road and Knight Street to the intersection of Beach Road and Alupyang Place. This area will be rezoned from village commercial and village residential to tourist resort.

'I am getting tired of that'

Lino Olopai, a resident in the area and a member of the chiefly clan of the Refaluwasch community, said, "I am trying to keep my cool, but this is an old issue that has been irritating me ever since." He had already opposed the proposal the first time it was brought up about two to three years ago, he added.

His biggest concern, Olopai said, is that the Legislature "seems to have a habit of just shoving things down our throat, and I am getting tired of that."

The entire area covered by the proposal, he said, is "sacred" not only to those who live there, but to the entire Refaluwasch community on island.

He said he was outraged to learn that there are residential and beachfront areas in San Antonio going to Pacific Islands Club that have been designated as tourist resort zones without the local community knowing about it.

"There were several incidents like this that irritated me to the max, but I am trying to keep my cool. I don't feel that I am given the opportunity to work with my own government to create something that benefits everyone in the community," he said.

History and culture

The Laly 4 area is very important to the local community, Olopai said. It is one of the centers of local traditions with high historical and cultural value.

He said there used to be an utt, or a canoe house, in the area where men gathered and shared knowledge and stories long before the Spanish arrived on Saipan.

This area in Laly 4, he said, was where elders conducted meetings, ceremonies and educational sessions for children. These traditions have been maintained through the years, Olopai said.

"We practice dancing, we practice music. Our elders who were still alive shared stories in this area," Olopai said. Even during the Spanish time, the local community in Laly 4 remained a center of traditional events, he added.