HILO — It’s taken 20 years to get this far, but full build-out of the 1,079-acre Kaupulehu project in North Kona may need 20 more.
Developers of the project say they’ve made substantial progress meeting development requirements set in 1999. Homes are being built, infrastructure such as roads and sewer is on track, golf course construction has commenced and a cultural center has been completed.
But the 2008 real estate slowdown and holdups from the state have contributed to the project falling behind schedule, said representatives of KDA Acquisition LLLP and Hualalai Investors LLP.
A 1999 rezoning anticipated a resort residential community with 539 single-family homes, 500 multiple-family units, 36 holes of golf with clubhouse, an 11-acre commercial center with 45,000 square feet of leaseable space, a 3-acre members’ recreational club and a 70-acre area for public shoreline access and recreational and cultural activities, according to the county Planning Department.
As the County Council gears up to hear this issue next week, a troublesome area remains — opening up the promised public access to a cultural center and the shoreline. The council Planning Committee is scheduled to hear the issue at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Hilo.
Developers’ representatives named the State Historic Preservation Division as the stumbling block.
“We are held up from opening this interpretive center to the general public because we have a pending long-term preservation plan being reviewed by SHPD. You know, we’ve, over the years we’ve followed up, our archaeologist has followed up with SHPD. We have gotten no response,” said Carlsmith Ball planner Jason Knable at an Oct. 18 meeting of the Leeward Planning Commission.
“Our office has actually followed up about three times this year and, with no luck. KD is, you know, eager to get these improvements open to the public because it’s been completed for some time now,” Knable said, according to a meeting transcript.
The preservation plan was submitted to SHPD in 2013, Knable said.
Carlsmith Ball partner Steve Lim, who also addressed the planning commission, said Wednesday the developer has hired an archaeological consultant to help move that part of the project along. He said it’s his understanding SHPD has been short-staffed on the Big Island, and that also may be contributing to delays.
“We think we’re going to get some movement soon,” Lim said.
Developers said the public can still access the shoreline by parking at the nearby Kona Village and Hualalai developments and traversing the Kaupulehu shoreline that way. The purpose of the interpretative center is to educate people about the natural and cultural resources before they use the shoreline access. Currently, it’s open only by advance reservation, Knable said.
He said the area is still open for lineal descendants and cultural practitioners wanting to take advantage of the resources, including gathering salt.
A spokesman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees SHPD, said the project is in the works.
“The State Historic Preservation Division has now heard from the archaeological consulting firm handling the project and will be following up with completing a review of the project submittal,” DLNR spokesman AJ McWhorter said in an email response to the newspaper’s questions.
The planning commission voted 5-0 to recommend the County Council approve the status update and not require a formal 20-year extension for the development to be completed. But if the council determines the rezoning ordinance needs to be amended to allow the extension, the commission recommended that it be allowed to proceed.
Commissioner Michael Vitousek questioned whether the county could do more to open up public access instead of waiting for the state.
“At this point if these guys have been held for years and years on end, and the public is losing out of that as not being able to access the property, at some point I would think that, because the county has this Cultural Resources Commission in place, the county has to make its own determination as to whether or not this preservation plan is acceptable per these permitting conditions, and review that so that the project can have some knowledge on whether they are in compliance or not and whether these sites are being maintained appropriately,” Vitousek said, according to the meeting transcript.