U of Nations given time extension for land development plan

  • Land Use Commissioner Gary Okuda questions a representative of University of the Nations, Kona at Wednesday's hearing at Hale Iako in NELHA. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The state Land Use Commission on Wednesday agreed to give the University of Nations, Kona, another year to put forward plans on how it hopes to develop 62 acres of land in the region Wednesday at Hale Iako in NELHA. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Katherine Garson, attorney for University of the Nations, Kona pleads her client's case at a Land Use Committee hearing Wednesday at Hale Iako in NELHA. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The state Land Use Commission on Wednesday agreed to give the University of the Nations Kona another year to put forward plans on how it hopes to develop 62 acres of land in the region.

The commission’s vote, which was unanimous, came as an alternative to considering whether to revert the land from urban to agricultural.

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“This allows all parties to work together and to get something done,” said Commissioner Arnold Wong in support of the motion at the hearing at NELHA. “And hopefully within six months you’ll come back and say, ‘Hey guys, look what we did,’ and then we can go from there.”

Specifically, the commissioners’ vote extends by one year a hearing on an order to show cause the commission issued in March. The time extension is to give the university an opportunity to either propose changes to a 2006 motion to amend the conditions attached to the decision that reclassified the land in the first place or withdraw that 2006 motion and file a new one altogether.

That order to show cause alleged that the university hasn’t substantially commenced use of the land and failed to meet 18 conditions established when the commission reclassified two parcels as urban. That 2003 reclassification was granted to a UNK predecessor, U of N Bencorp, and was for the development of Hualalai Villages condominiums, a multi-function cultural center and a 5-acre educational facility.

At the end of 2006, an entity that succeeded U of N Bencorp moved to amend that decision and order to bring the project closer in line with the university’s institutional and faith-based values. The amendment would have abandoned the cultural center and instead expanded educational and recreational facilities. It would have also replaced the undeveloped market-rate phases of Hualalai Villages with staff and student housing.

That motion was never fully resolved, and on March 29, the commission ordered the petitioner to come before the commission and answer as to why the land in question shouldn’t be reverted back to its former classification.

In advance of Wednesday’s hearing, counsel for the University of the Nations Kona, moved to rescind the commission’s order to show cause by arguing that issuing that without addressing the motion to amend “is premature, inappropriate and without justification.” UNK’s attorneys ultimately withdrew that motion during Wednesday’s hearing.

In that same document, attorneys for the University of the Nations Kona, asked that if the commission was unwilling to rescind the order, that the hearing be continued a year so it could file an amendment to the 2006 motion to amend.

The university, attorneys wrote, is committed to moving forward with development on the parcel with a plan similar to that which was proposed in 2006.

“In order to do so, however” stated the document, “UNK will need sufficient time to update project plans, studies and reports as necessary and to consult with members of the community and other stakeholders, including lineal descendants of the petition area.”

Under the terms of a stipulation involving UNK as well as the state Office of Planning and Hawaii County Planning Department and submitted to the commission, the university agreed not to conduct any development activities like construction or grading. It isn’t restricted from taking some other actions, such as revising or updating plans and studies, establishing or improving firebreaks and conducting preservation work within the site.

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The stipulation also obligates the university to submit a written six-month status report to the commission and other parties by the end of this November.

“I think that with that condition in there, we will come back to you and tell you where we are in the process of amending the motion,” said Katherine Garson, an attorney for University of the Nations Kona. “And then that way, the commission can monitor the progress.”

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