Laaloa Beach Park renovations to begin soon, will include parking lot reduction or removal

  • The Magic Sands parking lot has been closed for renovations for more than a year. When work begins, it will either be reduced or changed from a parking lot into a gathering area. (Max Dible/West Hawaii Today)
  • Beach goers pull up to a small, non-parking area at Magic Sands to load an unload Monday. Permanent parking this close to the beach has been hard to find since the county shut down its main parking lot in May of last year. (Max Dible/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tourists and locals pack Magic Sands Monday. (Max Dible/West Hawaii Today)
  • Beach goers cross Alii Drive just north of Laaloa Beach Park, also known as Magic Sands, from the Kipapa Park parking area on Monday afternoon. The Magic Sands parking lot on the beach's south end has been closed for nearly 14 months. (Max Dible/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The beach is an unlikely backdrop for complaints on a sunny West Hawaii weekday.

Such was the case Monday afternoon at Laaloa Beach Park, which was packed nearly end to end. At the well-known strip of sand on the southern stretch of Alii Drive, popularly known as Magic Sands, there isn’t much to gripe about — save for a main parking lot that’s been closed for more than a year.

ADVERTISING


The Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Department closed the lot in May of 2017, announcing plans to reconfigure and reduce lot capacity with an initial timeline of about 18 months. But 14 months later, nothing has changed and no work has been initiated.

And based on the project plan Mayor Harry Kim chooses, the lot may not come back at all.

Barett Otani, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Public Works, wrote in an email to West Hawaii Today that his department will assist Parks once a plan is in place, but added Parks has not yet provided a timeline.

Roxcie Waltjen, director of Parks, said that’s about to change.

“It’s going to be moving forward real soon,” said Waltjen, adding the project is currently in the “conceptual, planning stages.”

She couldn’t provide a precise timeline but said the project is on Kim’s radar. Waltjen met with the mayor Monday to go over a preliminary sketch of the new layout preceding discussions Kim has planned with stakeholders.

“From there, we’re going to go to a public hearing and then try to move forward with the whole project,” Waltjen said. “Get it done.”

The project itself is a lot older than 14 months and considerably larger than a parking lot renovation. Waltjen explained the parking lot work is just the first phase in what she called the “Laaloa Park expansion project.”

The expansion will include adding walking spaces and a restoration of the natural landscape in the area. The county first introduced the concept during Mayor Stephen Yamashiro’s administration in the 1990s.

Waltjen said current plans for the parking lot reduction and natural expansion are based on a historic preservation plan provided in a 2006 report.

The county must modify the parking lot in the interest of preserving the Haukalua Heiau as per an agreement with lineal descendants and cultural practitioners, as well as the Hawaii Island Burial Council and the State Historic Preservation.

Work at Magic Sands hasn’t been moved to the back burner in favor of a focus on county response to the most recent Kilauea volcano eruption, Waltjen said.

“We’re not looking back on any projects as far as taking away from any other district because we can’t let the rest of the districts stand still,” she said. “We have to keep moving in a positive direction.”

Instead, the holdup revolves around finalizing decisions before moving forward. Initially, a reduced parking lot was planned as a buffer for the heiau.

However, proposals exist that would do away with the parking lot altogether and transform it into more of a gathering area. These are the issues Kim wants to iron out the with the people and organizations holding stake in the project, Waltjen said.

She added the project budget remains fluid and won’t be finalized until these decisions are made.

With the parking lot in limbo, beach goers continue to park along the makai side of Alii Drive and at the Kipapa Park lot across the street just north of Magic Sands.

Likely public concerns would seem to be safety and inconvenience, but Waltjen said most of what she’s encountered are people who simply want to know what’s going to happen and when.

And Monday afternoon, swimmers and sunbathers weren’t overly concerned with the empty lot on the beach’s south edge.

Lyle Pua, who’s lived on the island all his life, said he’s used to walking with no sidewalks. Thus, while a stroll up Alii through traffic isn’t ideal, it doesn’t concern him from a safety perspective.

“Fortunately, there’s a lot across here,” he said, referring to parking at Kipapa Park, “but having that extra space (in the closed lot) would help.”

Ernest and Makana Tavares, siblings who spent nearly two decades on the island before moving away five years ago, were back in Kona visiting family Monday.

“I’d say there are definitely more people here than there used to be,” Ernest said.

He added it would be nice if there wasn’t parking on the road but that it’s been happening for as long as he can remember, so the parking lot closure probably hasn’t made much of an impact in that way.

ADVERTISING


Makana doesn’t regard the current parking situation as an inconvenience.

“Honestly, with the numbers (Magic Sands) can accommodate, I think it’s better not to have a ton of parking because it’s such a small beach and it gets crowded,” she said. “If you have to park a little bit further and you actually want to come here, (you will).”

  1. Graystash July 10, 2018 6:27 am

    One really has to ask, if they had no decision on what to do with the parking lot ?? Why have they closed it for 14 Mo. ?? Oh wait ” Thats how we do things in Hawaii “


  2. TaroGuy July 10, 2018 7:42 am

    Why didn’t the reporter ask Ms Waltjen why the park was closed with no plans for renovation? The parking lot was functional and there was a makeshift fence around the sacred site, as it was for many years. What triggered the closure in May of 2017?

    For Mayor Kim and his staff it is the same old story, out of site, out of mind on the west side of Hawaii.


  3. angkoldoy July 10, 2018 8:49 am

    Pragmatic and sound reasoning by Makana regarding priorities. More parking with only cause more users at an already often crowded park. Divert the resources elsewhere in the park. Concrete and asphalt do not add to the perceived value of a park. “If you build it, they will come”.


  4. KonaRich July 10, 2018 2:40 pm

    Reading this article, I get nothing from it but a lot of double speak, “conceptual, planing stages” but no timeline and on Kim radar. Kim is busy with the lava and the east side, and scheming our next TAX increase. How about cutting local government, get lean!


    1. Rusty Da Clown July 10, 2018 4:14 pm

      All talk no walk from Harry Kim in Kona.


    2. KonaDude July 11, 2018 8:24 am

      Just another s#%t show!!


  5. Rusty Da Clown July 10, 2018 4:14 pm

    In the good old Dru Kanuha and Billy Kenoi days, it seems like new parks and playgrounds were opening left and right in Kona. The county really seems to have lost its way under Harry Kim. He probably couldn’t even find La’aloa without his smart phone – oh wait, he doesn’t even use one.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.