28/01/2017 9:39 AM AEDT

Mark Zuckerberg Listens To Native Hawaiian Concerns, Drops Lawsuits

Ed Freeman via Getty Images
The island of Kauai is abundant with lush fields, forests and farms.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to be a better neighbor on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The multibillionaire announced Friday that he is dropping the quiet title lawsuits he filed against hundreds of Kauai landowners to help him acquire their land and make his own 700-acre beachfront estate more private.

The lawsuit, known as a “quiet title and partition” is a common way of establishing real estate ownership, and ultimately may lead to a judge ordering the land sold at auction, the Star-Advertiser reported.

In an op-ed published in The Garden Island newspaper, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, said by talking to the community they learned of their land’s cultural and historical significance. They insisted that their intentions are to preserve its environment and endangered wildlife and respect local traditions, while honoring the owners of kuleana land.

“The right path is to sit down and discuss how to best move forward,” the couple wrote. “We will continue to speak with community leaders that represent different groups, including native Hawaiians and environmentalists, to find the best path.”

The controversial land grab made headlines last week when news broke that Zuckerberg filed eight lawsuits on Dec. 30 against hundreds of people, living and dead, who have partial rights to kuleana lands on the estate, according to court records.

The Hawaiian Kingdom sold or granted these so-called kuleana lands to Hawaiians and island residents in 1850. Many parcels were inherited by the original owners’ descendants, often without documentation, until each family member owned an infinitesimal percentage of land. Some have no idea they have rights to the land.

Zuckerberg’s lawsuits aimed to identify all the kuleana landowners so that he could pay them for their share, but many local Kauai residents were not happy with the CEO’S action.

His quiet title lawsuit appeared especially aggressive in a state where many Native Hawaiians feel displaced in their own native land.

“He may think he’s doing something good and great,” Keola Worthington, a Hawaiian genealogist and kuleana landowner on Oahu, told The Huffington Post last week. But “he’s just opened the worst can of worms ever.”

Zuckerberg wrote in Friday’s op-ed that he acknowledged he and Chan made a mistake by filing the quiet titles without understanding the history of Hawaii’s kuleana land ownership.

Zuckerberg said that their estate would be preserved with minimal development, with large portions reserved for farming by the community.

“Upon reflection, I regret that I did not take the time to fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead,” he wrote. “Now that I understand the issues better, it’s clear we made a mistake.”