Get it in writing: Council panel wants new ordinance over developer’s shoreline promises

  • A guarded gate limits access to Kaupulehu luxury development. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kaupulehu Development. Bing Maps
  • The Kaupulehu development. Google Earth

HILO — A North Kona developer’s representative made repeated promises Tuesday that its shoreline will be opened to the public within a year, but most County Council members want it in writing.

Development of the 1,079-acre luxury Kaupulehu project has been ongoing since a 1999 rezoning, but developers said an eight-year wait for State Historic Preservation Division acceptance of their long-term preservation plan delayed the public shoreline access component.

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That acceptance was granted in a letter Monday to developers, the day before the development came before the council Planning Committee for a status report and a 20-year extension of its development plan. Public access is one requirement of the plan that would be formalized in Bill 1, an amended rezoning ordinance.

The 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.

Lots currently being advertised include a 1-acre lot for $4 million and a 1.25-acre lot for $12 million.

Public access is currently limited to cultural practitioners and groups by invitation only. Now that SHPD has approved the preservation plan, developers can begin creating a corridor to the shoreline, along with signage and a public restroom, said Carlsmith Ball partner Steve Lim, representing the developers.

“We don’t think the ordinance needs to be amended to put in a hammer. We think the hammer is already there,” Lim said.

Lim said the special management area includes a requirement that the public access be created with occupancy of the first residential phase. Currently, there are 15 or so homes constructed, he said.

The 1999 zoning ordinance, however, tied the public shoreline access to the completion of the golf course.

Regardless of the requirements, Lim committed to the completion of the public access within a year.

North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, however, pushed for an amended ordinance that puts that commitment in writing. Eoff and David were key participants in the original litigation that put public access in as a requirement.

“I’m just really concerned that for some project that’s huge and has been ongoing for this long, that we have some sort of check and balances as we move forward just in the interest of transparency because it is a huge project,” David said.

Council Chairman Aaron Chung of Hilo, however, questioned whether the rules should be changed so late in the process. If the 1999 rezoning ordinance was valid, changing it now could add more delays, he said.

“The law says all they had to do was submit a status report,” Chung said. “What assurances do you have that you guys won’t be leveraged for more conditions?” he asked the developers.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards agreed.

“We’re trying to move something forward and not preclude getting things done,” Richards said. “I don’t think we want to cloud things.”

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas saw no harm in taking time to write a solid bill spelling everything out. Council members unanimously agreed to forward the bill to the council with a favorable recommendation, but plan to amend the bill at that point to take out conflicting requirements and add in the public access deadline.

“We are still living with repercussions of decisions that were made in the interest — not always of constituents but of developers — all over the island,” Villegas said. “I think there is wisdom in taking things slow and looking at all the p’s and the q’s and the s’s and making sure things are written as specifically as possible.”

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One member of the public testifying just wants to see public access completed.

“Bill 1 is related to what appears to be a somewhat unusual and complicated issue, but what isn’t difficult to understand is that one of the caveats to the vast Kaupulehu development was that it would provide public access through its property to the ocean,” said Janice Palma-Glennie. “There’s probably plenty of blame to go around from the developer, the state and even the county, but 20 years is too long to make claims that this promised access can’t exist other than foot-dragging, long overdue clarity and lack of will at least among some of these entities.”