KAILUA-KONA — The Leeward Planning Commission Thursday held off on approving a slate of requests from Waikoloa BC, LLC, related to a proposed 40-unit resort development.
Instead, it scheduled a date for commissioners to visit the site next month before considering the matter again.
The commission’s decision came after a packed morning hearing at the West Hawaii Civic Center with presentations and testimony that went into the early afternoon.
The vast majority of the more than two dozen people who gave public testimony were opposed to the project, citing concerns about the potential impact to shoreline access as well as natural and cultural resources. A handful of people who spoke up during the hearing testified in support of the developer’s requests, citing the jobs the project would create.
The site is part of a 10-acre coastal property at Anaehoomalu Bay. The 10-acre property includes the current site of Lava Lava Beach Club and is owned by Waikoloa BC LLC, the applicant making the request.
While the effort involves three separate applications before the commission, the overarching idea is to subdivide the 10-acre parcel into two pieces, a 2.151-acre area and a 7.849-acre area. The larger portion, which wouldn’t include Lava Lava Beach Club, is the site of the proposed 40-unit, formerly 44-unit, resort development.
Additionally, the applicant is asking the commission to rezone that 7.849-acre portion and grant a special management area use permit — needed for coastal developments — for that portion for the proposed development.
That project would consist of 40 rental units to be spread across bungalows, two-story duplexes and another two-story structure, according to a map of the site. Other structures would include a single-story caretaker’s cottage, a restaurant/cafe and reception area. The proposal also outlines 55 parking spaces.
Documents filed with the Planning Department say that none of those structures would exceed 30 feet in height.
Planning Department staff during Thursday’s meeting said the department’s director is still formulating a recommendation and suggests the commission undertake a site visit of the property before making its final decision.
The director, department staff said, had a few unresolved concerns about the project, such as parking availability, public access, as well as its potential impact on historic trails in the area and green sea turtles known to bask and nest there.
During the meeting, Sidney Fuke, a planning consultant retained by the applicant, responded to the director’s concerns and outlined what steps the developer was willing to take in response.
For example, a revised map of the proposed complex moves the swimming pool and event garden away from the historical trails in the area, leaving the south-mauka portion where the trails are located free of development.
“One whole swath in this area is being set aside and kept in its natural state,” Fuke said.
He also noted that the plan was revised to build just 40 units, rather than the earlier proposed 44. Some structures in the south-makai area of the site previously identified as two-story duplexes are now identified as single-story bungalows.
Overall, Fuke said, the developer was making an effort to listen to the concerns they had heard prior to the meeting.
“We’ve heard all of the comments,” he said. “We’ve tried to address almost all of them.”
Local residents brought up issues similar to the director’s when given an opportunity to speak out at the meeting.
“I do believe that the expanded development is going to affect all of the resources everybody’s been talking about,” said Kamuela Plunkett, mentioning the trails and anchialine ponds in the area. He also mentioned the “sense of place” in the area.
That area, he said, is right now a transition from open, natural and cultural landscape to resort.
“If we build right there,” he said, “we lose that transition. We lose the sense of place.”
He also spoke about his connection to the trails, which he uses several times a week, and their historical importance as well as the impact on the anchialine ponds and other resources.
“Ongoing development, maintenance and increased human presence is going to affect these ponds, as well as the fish ponds to the north and the bay,” he said.
Kuulei Keakealani urged the commission to take a visit to the site and said she “would love to walk along your side in this very place that we’re looking at right now on the map.”
Not everyone objected to the proposal. About five people testified in favor of the project, specifically supporting the construction jobs the project would create. The project is expected to create at least 150 construction-related jobs in the short term, planning documents say.
“As a carpenter’s apprentice, I can say there’s very little work as a single mother that will provide for my whole entire family,” said Daniel Harlow.
Harlow acknowledged the developer’s willingness to listen to concerns and urged commissioners to work and negotiate with the applicant to protect the resources at the site instead of denying the request flat out.
The project is also expected to create about 30 full-time-equivalent positions, according to documents. About a third of those would be office-related or retail with the rest for maintenance of the grounds and facilities.
The site visit is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 15, with a hearing to follow that afternoon.