KAILUA-KONA — In response to a proposal that would have the county buy nearly 70 acres between Lako and Puapuaanui streets, a consultant for the owner of that land said it isn’t for sale.
Instead, wrote planning consultant Zendo Kern, the landowner plans to move ahead with its original intentions for a 450-unit residential development in line with a vision for that area that dates back three and a half decades.
Nonetheless, those advocating that the county buy the land say preserving the area is critical to protecting historic sites.
“I’m not anti-development, but I’m for very conscious, very patient study before we go in and literally erase things,” said Kate Kealani Winter outside a meeting of the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission on Monday.
The land at issue is the site of the almost 70-acre Kona Village development, which is planned to be the last part of the more than 173-acre Kona Vistas project. That project started in 1984 and is located mauka of Kuakini Highway.
The Kona Village parcel would be the project’s multi-family component and would put 80 residential buildings on the site, including two-story, four-unit structures and three-story, six-unit structures.
But earlier this year, it was suggested the county buy the property via the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission, or PONC, in order to preserve the site and allow low-impact public access.
The PONC is tasked with keeping a list of lands deemed “worthy of preservation,” and lands can be preserved for a number reasons, such as public outdoor recreation as well as preserving historic sites or natural resources.
And advocates for preserving the Kona Village site say historic sites would be at risk if the development goes forward as planned.
“What we’re for is preserving the things that, once it’s gone, you can’t bring it back again,” said Renee Inaba.
Kona Vista Homeowners Association president John Powell, who submitted the suggestion form nominating the area to the PONC, said the site offers great educational opportunities to the region if it and the sites in the area can be preserved.
He also pointed to opportunities for low-intensity ways for the community to access the site, such as recreational trails and bike paths.
Attached to his suggestion form was an archaeological inventory survey report for a 5-acre portion of one of the parcels, which found 22 newly identified archaeological sites. The report recommended preservation for two sites: one is a burial recommended to be preserved in line with a burial treatment plan, and the other is a railroad berm to be preserved in accordance with an archaeological preservation plan.
Most of the sites identified in the report are agricultural in nature, such as agricultural complexes and enclosures, and Powell said preserving those sites could offer a great opportunity to teach people about the history of agriculture in Hawaii, offering the community lessons in both culture and history.
And from looking at aerial surveys and old maps, he said: “There’s so much history that we don’t even know about.”
“I think a full, in-depth archaeological study needs to be performed on that property,” he said.
He also said preserving the area would also protect critical habitat for species like the io and pueo, species he said he’s seen just recently in the area.
Planning consultant Kern previously told West Hawaii Today he sees the property as a “perfect parcel” to support growth and development, citing its position within the urban expansion area according to the county’s Land Use Pattern Allocation Guide.
At the end of May, Kern wrote to the commission advising them that the landowner, Kona Three LLC, “wishes to have the properties removed from the nomination list as there is no intent to sell the properties at this time.”
Kern indicated that the developer instead plans to stick with the original plan and develop the property “to assist with the housing needs in the urban core of Kailua-Kona.”
During Monday’s meeting, commission member Wayne Frank emphasized that if a landowner isn’t interested in selling, the commission can’t make them sell.
“So we are fully aware of the importance of this, but we have our hands tied,” he said. “Because if the seller, which is the developer, does not want to sell, we can’t force them.”
Those advocating for the purchase, however, said the owner’s unwillingness to sell doesn’t mean the end of the discussion.
“Because what’s pono, what’s right, what is good for all the people is what should prevail,” Winter said.
And preserving the history and the historic sites in that area, she said, “is the pono thing to do.”
Winter said she agrees there’s a need for housing options that are affordable for Hawaii’s families, but she doesn’t believe this development is the answer.
“If we want to sustain the land for the people, we’ve got to build dwellings that they can really live in and afford to live in,” she said.
“And I’m with, basically, the people who say you shouldn’t have to work three jobs to live in Kona,” she added. “And what the builder is proposing, I believe, is not going to help our housing situation for the working people, and it’s going to end up being condos for mainland owners who will end up renting them out.”