County Council approves Hualalai Kai senior housing

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HILO — A Kona senior living facility cleared a major hurdle Thursday, when the County Council unanimously granted $1.8 million in exemptions.

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HILO — A Kona senior living facility cleared a major hurdle Thursday, when the County Council unanimously granted $1.8 million in exemptions.

Developers sought a break from building code permit fees, grading, grubbing and excavation permit fees, inspection fees, fair share fees and any future impact fees, should an impact fee ordinance pass. They also asked for exemptions from having to get a use permit, and a zoning exemption from RM 2.5 to RM 2.0 to increase the allowable density. And, they wanted an exemption from concurrency requirements.

County officials said the exemptions are typical under state law.

The exemptions were needed, Hualalai Kai developers said, because the high number of federal Medicaid beds meant those residents would cost more than the facility receives for them.

“The project is unique not only in Hawaii, but across the West Coast of the United States in that it is 70 percent Medicaid. Because the highest demand in West Hawaii is by Medicaid patients, the developers, using the exemptions provided by the state and county, have created a project that can support that level of affordability,” project spokeswoman Liz Heiman said in a statement.

She said the project will create almost 1,600 jobs, and bring in more than $10 million a year in state and federal Medicaid payments.

Council members have proceeded slowly in granting the request because they wanted to ensure taxpayers were getting their money’s worth.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here who does not support this,” said Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter. “Our responsibility is to the public, especially when there are public resources which will be coming to them.”

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille agreed.

“Here’s our checklist; here’s your checklist,” Wille said. “We all have the same checklist.”

The approximately $70 million project on 9.2 acres on Hualalai Road includes a 160-bed, long-term care, skilled nursing facility, along with 96 assisted living beds and apartments for 35 employees. Of those, 91 housing units — 54 percent — will be considered affordable under state law.

The apartments for employees and possibly other local workers will start at $1,700 monthly for a one-bedroom unit. That’s considered affordable because it’s 30 percent of the salary for households making up to 140 percent of the county’s median household income of $68,000, said county Housing Director Susan Akiyama.

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Another 56 assisted living beds will be affordable at $350 to $380 monthly for those on Medicare or Medicaid making 30 percent of median income.

If all goes as planned, the facility will be up and running in 2018. It will be operated by Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest, a faith-based nonprofit organization operating four facilities in Washington.

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