PONC priorities: North Kohala corridor, Hakalau Point

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Two North Kohala properties are at the top of the county’s purchasing list for next year, according to a report finalized Monday by the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission.

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Two North Kohala properties are at the top of the county’s purchasing list for next year, according to a report finalized Monday by the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission.

The PONC board named the Hapuu to Kapanaia cultural corridor, a 167-acre corridor that includes two major heiau from Kamehameha I’s time, as its No. 1 priority, followed by Halelua, a 50-acre parcel that includes much of the lower Halawa Gulch. Public access to the property is a high priority of the North Kohala Community Development Plan.

But it was the third priority property that generated the most interest at the meeting. Hakalau Point, an approximately 9-acre parcel along the Hamakua Coast in South Hilo, became the subject of community concern when Steve Shropshire of Aloha Green LLC announced his plans to build 11 single-family homes, lots ranging from 13,115 square feet to 18,490 square feet, along the cliff.

The Hakalau property, site of two historic sugar mills, would also include commercial and industrial uses, under Shropshire’s plans. It appeared on the PONC list in 2006, but was removed the following year without being purchased.

About a dozen residents, accompanied by Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, attended the meeting Monday to show their support for purchase and preservation. Speakers bemoaned the possible lack of public access and cited the risk of building cliff-side homes, saying there have been landslides in the area in the past. Neighbors also worried about increased traffic coming from a development there.

“Hakalau Point is truly one of the only sites available (for preservation) along this coast,” said neighbor Susan Forbes, who nominated the parcel. “Development cannot be undone.”

The multi-use development is an attempt to develop and revitalize the area, while keeping its history alive and preserving its character through the use of smart-growth concepts, Shropshire said in an October interview with the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

“A lot of folks say we shouldn’t develop any more housing, we should limit it, because it competes with agriculture,” he said. “My answer to that is what we need to do is to be building housing in areas where there is existing infrastructure and existing townships. Hakalau is a prime example of that.”

Poindexter said she’s been talking with state officials to see if the state can conduct a cliff-side study to ensure stability before any more building occurs. She said she worries that buildings are not being set back sufficiently.

“I’m concerned about the safety of people on this coastline,” Poindexter said.

Properties can be purchased with PONC funds only if there’s a willing seller. It’s not certain that this is still the case for Hakalau Point.

Shropshire had originally offered to sell the 9-acre oceanfront parcel, PONC commissioners said. In a Sept. 15 letter to the commission, however, Shropshire said he’ll sell the oceanfront parcel only if the county also agrees to buy the 87-acre valley holdings as well, at a total price of $4.25 million.

Otherwise, Shropshire said, he’ll be proceeding with his rezoning and special management area permits within 45 days.

Property Manager Hamana Ventura, in a Sept. 21 response to Shropshire, noted that Hawaii County Code allows the county to purchase property for no more than the fair market value determined by an independent appraiser.

The PONC program was created in 2006, after a charter amendment passed directing a minimum of 2 percent of property tax revenues be set aside in the account to purchase public lands. The commission annually prioritizes a list based on public input and other factors. It presents the list to the mayor, and then the County Council works off that list.

The public has submitted more than 168 parcels for PONC consideration since the program began, according to the 2014 annual report, the latest one available. The county has so far bought 1,260 acres at a total acquisition cost of $31.7 million, including state and federal grants and private donations.

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There was $7.5 million in the fund as of Nov. 2, according to the latest PONC financial report.

Other properties on the list are Mahukona, Niulii, Lamaloloa, Keawenui, Kukuipahu-Haena corridor and lands of Kalihi.

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