Puakea Ranch draft Environmental Assessment finds no impact

  • A draft environmental assessment was published by the applicant Christie Cash for Puakea Ranch, a 32.4-acre property in North Kohala on Akoni Pule Highway that’s listed on the State Register of Historic Places. (Courtesy photo)

KAILUA-KONA — A Hawi property that has been the subject of more than $100,000 worth of fines and a lawsuit by Hawaii County has applied for a special permit from the county to host events such as weddings and to increase vacation rental occupancy.

A draft environmental assessment was published by the applicant Christie Cash for Lot #1 of Puakea Ranch, a 32.4-acre property in North Kohala on Akoni Pule Highway that’s listed on the State Register of Historic Places.

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According to the draft EA, the special permit would allow the maximum occupancy of the vacation rentals on the property to increase from 18 to 38, and guests and non-guest events with attendees up to 100 would be permitted, as would two events a year at 350 attendees.

Comments on the draft EA are due today.

Cash said the draft EA was done to show the historical aspects of the ranch and the environment would not be impacted by the changes the property is seeking with the special permit.

The county sued Puakea Ranch last November for weddings, concerts and other events being held at the property without a permit. The county had sent warning letters and notices of violations since 2016 that recreational activities are not allowed at the property, which is zoned as agriculture land and not commercial, without a special permit.

The lawsuit sought more than $197,500 in fines, attorneys’ fees and costs, and injunction to prohibit unauthorized activities and the demolition of an open recreational pavilion that was built without a county permit.

The draft EA states the special permit would have no impacts to significant archaeological features and normal operational traffic is not expected to have significant impact on the area.

“A biological survey found no threatened or endangered plant species on the property, which hosts a variety of introduced species found in landscaping,” the draft EA states. “The only endangered animal is the Hawaiian hoary bat, which forages and roosts at low densities throughout the entire Island of Hawaii. The precautionary measure of restricting vegetation removal to dates outside June 1 to Sep.15 will avoid impacts to these bats.”

For neighbors, the list of grievances against Puakea Ranch goes beyond fees and permits.

A neighbor who lives at Puakea Bay Ranch, a gated community on Akoni Pule Highway across from Puakea Ranch, but did not want to giver her name for the article, said her and her neighbors almost all have the same concerns about Puakea Ranch hosting large-scale events.

Among the neighborhood concerns are traffic levels, noise levels and having a commercial business in an agricultural community. They said they have seen guests from events at Puakea Ranch cross the highway and try to trespass into the Puakea Bay Ranch neighborhood.

The neighbor said even if Puakea Ranch pays its fines and is approved for a special permit, it doesn’t change the neighborhood stance on the property’s activities.

“It has nothing to do with the fines,” they said. “Living opposite from a major wedding venue and major conference center is not what any of us signed on to do. This is not why we moved here.”

Cash purchased the property in 2006 with her partner, James Nelson. The draft EA states that hours for all events on the property would be limited to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Cash told West Hawaii Today that the property needed the EA to get the permit, but declined to talk about the permit itself or the fines.

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The neighbor said they are also concerned about the property’s use of fire while the area is under a drought and susceptible to wildfires. They said use of fire by Puakea Ranch has included firework displays, sky lantern releases, sparklers and bonfires.

Info for Planning Department: http://www.hiplanningdept.com/ or 323-4770.

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