HILO — The County Council on Wednesday tightened government oversight before unanimously moving to a final reading a package of changes that some community members say will weaken the Kona Community Development Plan.
An amendment giving developers sole discretion about following the Kona CDP’s clustered rural subdivision guidelines outside the Kona urban area was struck from the package and replaced with language recommending the Planning Department review applications to check that they’re complying.
“This will ensure some protections that were originally in the CDP for areas outside the Kona urban area,” said county planner Kamuela Plunkett, who drafted the edit that he says will “bring back the original intent of that policy while still allowing some discretion from the Planning Department.”
The clustered subdivision guidelines specify minimum lot sizes, natural and cultural resources meriting protection and associated buffer areas, minimum standards for roads and wastewater disposal, legal tools for permanent protection, maintenance of open space and agricultural lands and connections to the open spaces of surrounding areas.
“It’s a small change, but it’s very important to the entire integrity of the plan,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff.
The Kona urban area stretches from Keauhou to the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole and mauka roughly to Queen Kaahumanu Highway. Outside that area, the amendment had stated the clustered subdivision guidelines would apply “at the applicant’s option.”
The intent of the guidelines is to minimize grading, preserve the natural appearance of the land to the maximum extent possible, ensure agriculture use in the State Land Use Agricultural District and create a rural setting for residences, the plan states.
Still, three testifiers seemed skeptical. The amendments should be shelved until there’s a chance for community input, they said, noting that hundreds of people came to meetings and charettes during the years-long process of creating the Kona CDP.
The changes in Bill 87 are in response to a 2017 ruling by the Intermediate Court of Appeals that upheld the CDP as law. A Kona couple, Patricia and Richard Missler, sued after the county maintained that the 72-acre Waikakuu Ranch planned unit development was not subject to the CDP.
A number of the amendments change the mandatory “shall” to the more discretionary “should,” and make similar wording changes.
Kona testifier Chuck Flaherty submitted point-by-point written testimony on the numerous changes. He asked the council to send the amendment package back to the community for further input.
“This will undermine, dilute and dis-empower the Kona CDP,” Flaherty said. “These amendments have profound implications.”
Shannon Rudolph agreed.
“This is a very, very big decision about how we grow,” Rudolph said. “There are a lot of moving parts, and people just don’t understand what’s going on.”