KAILUA-KONA — Claude Thornton said he’s never been the type of person to come out to Homeowner Association meetings. But when he heard about plans to build a roughly 70-acre development near his Kona Vistas home that would provide access directly through his neighborhood, he had to speak out.
“This can have a direct impact on my kids,” he said. “I’m just afraid my kids are going to get hurt and my neighborhood kids are going to get hurt.”
Thornton was one of several residents of Kona Vistas and the nearby subdivisions to speak out about the proposed Kona Village development, which would build a total of 450 units across 80 multi-family residential buildings, during a meeting Wednesday the residents organized with Mayor Harry Kim.
The Kona Village project marks the final phase of the more than 173-acre Kona Vistas project that sits mauka of Kuakini Highway and was first started in 1984.
A county ordinance from that year rezoned 103 of the 173 acres to allow for single-family dwellings on lots at least 15,000 square feet in size. The remaining 70 acres were rezoned to allow for multi-family dwellings at a density of up to one unit per 5,000 square feet of land.
But residents who live in the area told the mayor, who was joined by staff from the county Planning Department, that what might have seemed appropriate at the time would put too much pressure on the area’s infrastructure today.
“At 1984, maybe that plan made sense,” said John Bennett, a resident of Kona Vistas. “But it seems that it’s just kind of a hodgepodge to throw this multi-family in that area where the infrastructure does not support it.”
Among the residents’ key concerns is the impact on traffic and roads in their neighborhoods.
The master plan for Kona Village references the construction of connections between Paulehia Street and Kekuanaoa Place as well as between Hoomama Street and Leilani Street. Access to the subdivision is planned to be via Puapuaanui Street and Lako Street.
A planning consultant working with the developer previously said they were exploring the possibility of a new connection from the highway. Neither the developer nor the consultant attended the meeting. The consultant didn’t return a message Wednesday afternoon.
Thornton told the mayor that the way things are now, he feels comfortable when his kids play outside. Things are different when he sees a plan that could dramatically increase vehicle traffic on their neighborhood roads.
“That plan is just absolutely frightening to all of us at different levels and especially for the parents of the young children,” he said.
Given the roads’ narrow shapes, steep grades and inclined driveways to houses, he said, added traffic could make for a dicey situation.
“It’s no concern for us today, because we have these tranquil and safe streets,” he said. “I fear that there’s going to be accidents and fatalities if they push this through.”
Residents also raised concerns about the water supply, impacts on local schools and the region’s aesthetics during the meeting.
In response, Kim acknowledged the issues residents raised during their meeting.
“Every single one of the concerns that you have, I know, are valid,” he said. “What I’m asking you to understand is we’ve got the process that we have to follow, like it or not.”
That includes allowing the landowner to file an application with the Planning Department and have it considered.
“What you and I have to do is make sure that these things that you clearly identified today is identified in the processes of the public hearings, meetings to everybody that’s going to make a decision,” he said. “Because at this point — and please understand this — at this point, no decision has been made on this subdivision.”
After the meeting, resident Greg Olsen said the meeting went about how he had expected, saying he felt like residents’ concerns were heard by the mayor and Planning Department.
“This is the first step in many steps that we’re going to be taking,” he said. “And I’m glad we got the results that we did. Though the results are not lengthy, we were heard by the right people. That to me was one of the most important things.”
He, as many did during and after Wednesday’s meeting, emphasized that he isn’t “anti-development,”saying he hopes the developers would “take a better look and look at the long-term use of that land.”
“Do we need more housing in Kona? Definitely,” he said. “Do we need a high-density project in a traffic-constrained neighborhood? No.”