Is Aina Lea finally ready to be built?

  • Lulana Gardens affordable units that are substantially complete are pictured at the Town of Aina Lea. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A South Kohala developer says it is moving forward with the Town of Aina Lea, while the county is reminding the company that all requirements must be met should the long-delayed project actually want to get off the ground.

Aina Lea Inc. has set a public scoping meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott in South Kohala in accordance with the requirements for the developer to move forward with a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the 2,226-home project on the Kohala Coast. The developer filed in late August with the County of Hawaii a preparation notice for the document.

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The 90-minute meeting will provide attendees with a broader understanding of the project, as well as the opportunity to bring suggestions and comments for the design of the Town of Aina Lea, which was formerly known as the Villages at Aina Lea, according to Bob Wessels CEO and chairman.

“It’s been a long process,” Wessels said of what’s essentially been a decade that the project’s been on hold amid legal and regulatory wrangling.

In addition, Kelly Valenzuela, with eXp Realty, will be on hand to discuss the Lulana Gardens affordable housing units for rent and purchase, as well as how to apply for a grant to help with down payment.

The move comes several months after Aina Lea Inc. emerged from bankruptcy with plans to get the project back underway.

The environmental document needs to be accepted and approved by Hawaii County in order for the developer to move forward with amending a Project District application approved in 1996 that allowed for the development. It would also address a 2017 stop-work order issued after the county determined Aina Lea Inc. was in violation of a 2013 court order requiring a supplemental EIS to cover the entire 3,000 acres of Aina Lea, and conditions the county imposed in rezoning the land.

Aina Lea Inc. says the new EIS will update the one approved by the county in 2010 (and ultimately deemed invalid by the court in 2013) by addressing “the impact of changing the 1996 county ordinance 96-153 for a portion of 1,099 acres of prime development property to a more modern Project District to be known as the Town of Aina Lea,” the company said in an Aug. 27 press release.

According to the developer, the number of homes approved in 1996 was 2,658. The current plan calls for 2,226 single- and multi-family homes, with 432 of those being units meeting Hawaii County’s affordable housing standard of $470,000 to $509,000 on Aina Lea Inc.’s 1,099 acres.

Bridge Aina Lea LLC owns the remaining acreage that once composed the 3,000-acre project first approved in 1989 under developer Signal Puako Corp. Aina Lea Inc. in its EIS-PN said Bridge intends to develop its lands, which will require a separate EIS.

However, Aina Lea Inc.’s EIS will study cumulative impacts, “including the cumulative traffic impact with respect to the newly planned developments in the Waikoloa to Mauna Kea resort area, and the cumulative impact that the Project might have on lands owned by Bridge Aina LLC.”

“What we’re doing is the EIS on what we own and then we are doing an impact on the surrounding area,” Wessels said when asked about the county requiring the document study the entire 3,000-acre area. “Not only the 1,933 acres of Bridge, but also the expansion of the Mauna Lani and another project down the road that will generate traffic.”

Hawaii County Planning Director Michael Yee earlier this month said the county’s position remains that an environmental impact statement is needed for the entire 3,000 acres proposed for development three decades ago, among other requirements. The court-ordered tolling order dating to 2013 and a stop-work notice issued by the county in May 2017 remain in “full force and effect.”

In a letter to the developer dated Sept. 9, Yee notified Wessels that the county wasn’t able to accept and provide the preparation notice to the OEQC for publication due to deficiencies that “need to be corrected and addressed.” He advised that the public meeting be rescheduled after revisions are made to the notice.

“I rejected their EIS-PN. Planning Department recommended to Aina Lea Inc. to delay having a public meeting till after we accept a EIS-PN,” Yee said in an email to West Hawaii Today on Tuesday. “They certainly plan to continue with their scheduled public meeting and I hope they provide accurate information to the public. I cannot tell you what will be in their EIS, thus, impossible for me to make a determination at this time.”

When asked if Wessels felt Aina Lea Inc.’s current EIS effort would meet the county’s requirements and allow the project to resume, he said, “basically, yes, we’re doing what the county wants. And this EIS-PN will help clarify that.”

If the county lifts the stop-work order, Wessels said, the company is about six months away from completion of the first units in the Lulana Gardens, which comprises two of the 20 villages that would compose the Town of Aina Lea. Full build-out is expected to occur in six phases over 15 to 20 years.

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Currently, there are dozens of affordable units that are substantially complete.

“We’re hoping to get this resolved and lifted here in October for the Lulana Gardens portion while we do the additional information they want on the surrounding properties,” Wessels said. “If that’s the case then were hoping to have houses for people to move into in March.”

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