NORTH KOHALA — Nearly two dozen residents found common ground Wednesday night, reaching a consensus that may lead to a five-acre land donation at Pololu Valley Lookout from Surety Kohala Corporation sometime in the next year or so.
The land could be used for needed public restroom facilities and additional parking spaces to help alleviate the often congested Lookout entrance. Surety Kohala has been offering to gift the land for several years.
North Kohala Community Development Plan Action Committee members John Winters and Toni Withington opened Wednesday night’s public meeting at Kohala High and Elementary School cafeteria with a recap of input gathered from previous community meetings earlier this fall, and shared a proposed map outlining where a parking lot could go.
They also reviewed specific problems including a clogged lookout/turnaround at the Lookout entrance, no restrooms, safety and sanitary issues, visitors blocking driveways, a lack of organized parking and cars parking on the road restricting access to a single lane.
“There’s no organization for the parking. People just park everywhere,” Withington said.
Suggested solutions from past meetings included painting existing lookout parking stalls, adding restrooms, keeping a visit to Pololu Valley “a wilderness experience,” maintaining two lanes at the lookout, adding a police presence and putting up and enforcing no parking signs along the highway to restrict parking to the parking stalls.
Bill Shontell, executive vice president of Surety Kohala; newly-elected State Rep. David Tarnas; Steve Bergfeld from the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DLNR-DOFAW); and Clem Chang and Moana Rowland from Na Ala Hele sat on a panel to share their perspectives on Lookout challenges.
“Heavy congestion at the Lookout can sometimes reach 85 or so cars a day,” Shontell said. “We’d like to carve out a separate lot and donate it,” he said. “We want to turn it over to the state and time is of the essence.”
Coakley commented that the biggest issue up until now has been a lack of agreement from North Kohala residents to build a parking lot at the Lookout. He then opened the floor for comments, questions and suggestions.
“Let’s have the land to put the bathrooms on because that is very important. And we can worry about the parking lot some other time,” Sarah Pule said. “I love Pololu. I live here all my life and don’t want any more improvements. Leave it alone. Just put up some no parking signs so they don’t park on the side of the road and we have two lanes going in and out of Lookout. Like Sherry said, we don’t want this place to explode with all this tourists.”
Greg Chilton, who owns property near the Lookout said, “I think a small parking lot and a bathroom is fine. We advertise to tourists to come to our island, but then we’re saying don’t come here? That’s not really right. You’ve got to give them the right facilities to have a decent time.”
Another attendee said, “I think the congestion is dangerous sometimes. I would like to see expanded highway or space available so people aren’t walking in the road.”
Winters said he thought a parking lot would be a good idea.
“The first thing that should happen is Surety should start the process,” he said. “I think when the Legislature sees that they have been generous enough to donate the land, they would be kind of obligated to cough up the money for the parking lot and design.”
Rep. Tarnas added that “the Legislature will want to know that the state owns and controls the land for which the planning and design will be spent.”
“It would make it compelling that this generous land owner is donating the land if the community is backing it up,” he added.
The meeting stalled at one point when residents hesitated to confirm the exact number of acres that would be needed.
“It’s probably not good to make this (decision) in stone tonight,” Withington said. “We don’t have the user surveys, the vehicle numbers survey; those sorts of things. We also don’t know how the restroom area will be and other variables.”
But one resident piped up, “Time is of the essence. Let’s give Bill the number of acres we’re requesting.”
Attendees suggested everywhere from 2 to 10 acres. Others repeated five acres.
“We’ll cap it at 5 acres then,” Shontell responded.
“Is there any objection from anyone here to asking for 5 acres?” Rep. Tarnas asked.
No one responded. The attendees then agreed that deciding how the land would be used could be determined at a later date.
“Okay, great, we have a number,” Coakley said. “(North Kohala CDP) is a committee of just four people. They’ve been working on this for 10 years and I encourage people who feel very strongly about this issue to participate in the committee to take this further.”
North Kohala Parks, Water & Roads group meetings are held at 5 p.m. the fourth Wednesday of each month in the old Judiciary building.
“It’s also important for (the Action Committee) to be involved with the planning department at the earliest stages and be aware of what they’re doing,” Withington said.
Following the meeting, attendees appeared pleased with what had transpired.
“The meeting was very informative for me because we had several people representing the agencies that we needed to hear from,” resident Jazel Garrity said. “For me, the outcome is very good. I appreciated the concerns from people who live at the end of the road. We’re not all going to agree. We have to make decisions and they’re not going to offer the land forever.”
“I was so pleased that we were able to come to a consensus,” Withington said. “We’ve been trying for months and years to do that.”
“We now have a consensus we never had before,” Winters added.
According to Shontell, a pre-existing lot of record determination will be next be done by the County to tell how many lots will be affected, which usually takes two months or so. Next, he said he’ll get surveyors to draw maps, which will take several additional months, after which they will be submitted to the County for review.
“That could take six to nine months,” Shontell said.
Bergfeld encouraged attendees to speak with Councilman Richards and Mayor Kim about the project in the meantime.
“The land donation is the first piece of the puzzle,” Bergfeld said. “DOT is also important to involve.”
“I’m very encouraged, frankly. I was expecting more running around in circles, chasing our tails at this meeting, as has happened in the past not just on this project but on many,” Shontell said. “The stars are lined up. We’re in the mode to do something good for the community.”
Rep. Tarnas said that since the land can’t be donated by January, he will “see if a letter of intent can be requested, as an example, so the Legislature would have some confidence that the public would have the land in hand in order to do the planning and design.”
“We’re going to check on that,” he said.