Hamakua-area residents say they don’t want to see more growth

About 75 East Hawaii residents attended a workshop to speak their minds on a plan for the future growth of the Big Island’s Hamakua District, and for many the answer was a resounding “We don’t want any.”

About 75 East Hawaii residents attended a workshop to speak their minds on a plan for the future growth of the Big Island’s Hamakua District, and for many the answer was a resounding “We don’t want any.”

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The gathering at Papaikou Gym on Friday evening was the second of three meetings, with the final scheduled for today at noon at Laupahoehoe Point. Members of the county’s Hamakua Community Development Planning Committee have been collecting input from the community since September 2009, and that process is beginning to near completion. This weekend’s series of workshops was designed to share with the community what strategies had been gathered for the plan and to receive any final thoughts before committee members come up with a draft of the plan.

A final draft is expected some time around August. Organizers expect that efforts to then have the County Council turn that plan into county ordinance would begin in about March of 2013.

As Friday’s meeting got under way, attendees were encouraged to walk between different stations in the gym representing each of the major towns along the Hamakua Coast. Maps showed lines revealing current county limits on expansion for each town, as well as beach access pathways, cultural heritage spots and other areas of interest. Stations provided Post-It Notes and large notepads for attendees to provide commentary and suggestions.

Later, attendees participated in live polling by responding to multiple choice questions using wireless keypads. Results were displayed in real time on a large screen at the front of the gym. Much of the polling centered on where each attendee was from, how long they had lived in East Hawaii, and other identifying factors. The polling revealed that 64 percent of those in attendance were from the Papaikou community. Seven or eight of the people there wore bright orange T-shirts bearing the phrase “Aole Papaikou Point Project,” showing their opposition to a 200-home development proposal by Big Isle businessman Steve Shropshire.

Three years ago, Shropshire, owner of Aloha Green nursery, withdrew an application asking the state Land Use Commission to give an urban designation to 90 of 99 acres of agricultural and conservation land he owns along the Papaikou coastline. That move also rescinded an accompanying notice to evaluate the controversial project’s environmental impacts.

Shropshire has said that he didn’t want his project, which generated considerable public opposition, to overshadow the larger planning effort. A longtime supporter of the community-based planning process, Shropshire has said he still believes in the viability of his development, but he wants to hold off until the CDP produces a clear direction for the Hamakua Coast.

“I’ve continued to be a participant in the community’s development plan process,” Shropshire said in an interview Friday before the meeting. “I have faith in its outcomes. I believe that it’s been a very effective planning process. The difficult questions are being asked.”

During a breakout session in which small groups gathered with a facilitator to answer questions about the particular area in Hamakua where they lived, the comments in the Papaikou discussion groups focused largely on Shropshire’s development, as well as any possible future residential and commercial development.

“We don’t want any of that development,” said Carol Hussey, a Papaikou resident. “That’s because an undercurrent comes with it. … Traffic, drugs. … We’re very sensitive about that. We won’t have any peace of mind, no matter what happens. I don’t want 200 homes built in my community.”

Molly Masaoka, who also spoke in one of the many Papaikou groups, seemed to capture what many of the attendees felt about allowing growth in their community.

“I fear it’s a slippery slope,” she said. “If we allow even a little bit, we’re opening this can of worms. And I don’t think it ends with just a barbershop down the street.”

That feeling was so strong, in fact, that organizers of the meeting were forced to rewrite on the fly several of the multiple choice polling questions they were asking of the attendees. Many of the questions asked how much growth, and what kind of growth residents were willing to accept, but none of the answers available allowed them to say “No growth.” Once those options were made available on such questions, an overwhelming majority selected the newly added options each time.

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Attendees cited a loss of their community’s rural character, traffic problems, infrastructure problems, a loss of their beautiful sweeping views, and a detriment to their small-town feel as reasons for opposing any future development. Those who did support development overwhelmingly said they wanted to see quality over quantity in any future growth, with emphasis placed on sustainability and other environmental concerns.

For more on the planning process, visit www.hamakuacdp.info.