20 nominations considered by PONC: Commission kicks off land-buying program for 2020

  • A surfer catches a wave at Banyans. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Three stretches of Alii Drive oceanfront property are on a list of properties the county will consider purchasing this year under its open space land-buying program.

The properties near Banyans, Magic Sands and Pahoehoe Beach Park are among 20 nominations community members submitted to the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission by the Feb. 28 deadline. The 20 nominations encompassed 86 parcels in four of the nine County Council districts. That includes Districts 1, 6, 7 and 9.

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West Hawaii Surfing Association president Paula “Simmy” McMichael, founder of a local surf shop, fought development on the parcels. She submitted the nominations to PONC.

Daughter Lokelani McMichael also testified Tuesday at a PONC meeting in Hilo. Lokelani was the youngest woman to qualify and finish an Ironman World Championship event in 1995, and went on to become a model — gracing 32 magazine covers.

“My brother and I were told to just beat it off the beach by some of the condo owners,” she said of her childhood experiences.

Paula McMichael said the properties are ripe for county purchases as developers have tried and failed to put buildings on them. Beaches should be open and accessible to the public, not walled off by development, she said.

“This is horrible what has happened. … This is an opportunity we will never get back,” she said, adding preservation of such a historical area should come foremost. “Alii Drive is the land of the chiefs.”

Realtor Edward Rapoza, who represents three of the owners of properties on the nomination list, including the Banyans parcel, agreed landowners are ready to sell.

“All of these parcels are ready for development in some fashion,” Rapoza said. “We don’t need another condo or single family home near Banyans.”

Eight properties along the North Kohala Coast have also been nominated for preservation. The properties have appeared on previous years’ lists, but they’re strongly supported by a group of four nonprofit preservation groups, said Toni Withington, who submitted the nominations.

Ocean access near Pepeekeo is also a priority for some groups, including the Pepeekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee. Jaerick Medeiros-Garcia said fishers, especially the kupuna, are having an increasingly difficult time reaching the shoreline to ply their lines. Homeowners building driveways have blocked access, he said.

A Pepeekeo Point subdivision parcel purchase was nominated by Hilo Project LLC, a group that sued the Windward Planning Commission and Hu Honua Bioenergy power plant.

“I’m so glad there’s a commission here because now there’s a chance to keep Hawaii, Hawaii,” Medeiros-Garcia said.

Other nominations include the Shirakawa Hotel in Naalehu and the Discovery Harbor Golf Course.

In all, some two dozen people spoke in support of their favorites during an hour and a half of testimony.

“Public testimony means a whole lot to us,” said PONC Chairman Rick Warshauer. “It starts the process, it gets things going and it gets us excited about the projects.”

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The nominations are just the start of the process. Next comes consideration by the commission, site visits and recommendations to the mayor and County Council. Purchases must then be approved by the council through resolutions.

The PONC acquisition fund comes from a sweep of 2% annually from county property tax revenues. Another 0.25% is taken for the PONC maintenance fund. As of Feb. 29, there was $22.3 million in the acquisition fund and $3.1 million in the maintenance fund, according to PONC commission records.

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