Kona park makeover delayed: Permitting issues hinder $20M project

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KAILUA-KONA — The makeover of the Old Kona Airport Park has been delayed and scaled back due to delays in getting state sign-offs on the project.

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KAILUA-KONA — The makeover of the Old Kona Airport Park has been delayed and scaled back due to delays in getting state sign-offs on the project.

Plans for removal of the old runway have been abandoned, and a more complete $20 million makeover of the area is no longer on the table — at least not right now.

The first phase of the project went out to bid this past spring, but a delay in getting approval from the State Historic Preservation Division for an archaeological inventory survey forced the cancellation of phase one. The delay in the permitting also prompted the county not to pursue the $11 million in bonds needed to complete the makeover, said Ken Van Bergen, deputy director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation.

Three burials and historic sites identified near Pawai Bay at the north end of the park have complicated the project, although they are away from areas where the county would like to begin work.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Van Bergen said of the delay. “If we could have gotten the AIS approved, we could have moved ahead with the first phase.”

Instead, Hawaii County will likely use $9 million in existing funding to finish the skatepark, renovate the Makaeo Events Pavilion, add lights to the soccer field and upgrade baseball field lighting, said Van Bergen. Sewer and water upgrades are also being added and the county is in discussions with a private foundation on possibly building tennis courts near the skate park, he said.

“It’s still a good project; it’s just taking longer than we expected,” he said.

Original plans included removal of parts of the runway, a new road and entrance, landscaping and a cultural area at the north end of the park. Improvements to the park have been talked about for four decades.

The first draft of the archaeology survey went to SHPD in August 2014. Material was added and resubmitted the next month. Further revisions were sent in April and July of this year. The parks department has not heard back from SHPD since July, Van Bergen said.

With SHPD no longer staffed with a West Hawaii archaeologist, much of the process is now being handled on Oahu. Van Bergen said the park improvements remain high priority, but declined to hazard a guess on when work might start.

“It’s just one of those situations where you have to follow a process,” Van Bergen said. “It’s not moving as quickly as we had hoped. We have to wait for state approval.”

Things are beginning to progress more smoothly on a 10-acre parcel on Laaloa Avenue — one which has seen its own share of delays in becoming a park. Thirteen years after Towne Development first deeded the 10-acre parcel to the YMCA for development into a park, a second developer is throwing in on the stalled effort.

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That developer, whose name was not immediately available, needs to build a park as part of a “fair share” contribution to infrastructure, and will be developing the planned pavilion, football field, playground, restrooms and parking lot on 6.5 acres, Van Bergen said. The property was recently subdivided, with 4.2 acres remaining in YMCA hands.

“The developer has been really cooperative,” Van Bergen said. “He’s hired an architect, and it’s going full speed. We’re hopeful we can break ground in the spring.”

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