A bill that would allow hotels at Kona’s Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport and Hilo International Airport moved a step forward Tuesday with a positive vote from the County Council Planning Committee.
The 8-0 vote came after council members were assured any hotel would be an airport style of hotel and not a seaside resort.
Bill 199, which faces two more readings at the council level, creates a special zoning category for airports, allowing certain businesses there that would otherwise not be allowed. Several council members said the bill is needed because it would make legal certain existing amenities at the airport, such as car rental businesses, that are currently operating in violation of the zoning code.
The airport hotel would be used to accommodate flight crews requiring sleep between flights, flight cancellations, day trip meeting spaces, travelers with very early flights and emergency and stranded passengers.
“They’re intended to be transiting in and out, those traveling on business and stranded travelers,” said Chauncey Wong Yuen, Hawaii district manager for the state Department of Transportation’s Airports Division “We’re looking for a different type of clientele, but it’s not to say that people won’t stay there.”
There would be no need for amenities like swimming pools, said county Planning Director Michael Yee, who added that the Planning Department would retain its authority to regulate development.
“(The state Department of Transportation) asked us to waive plan approval, which we will not,” Yee said. “This gives us a major oversight.”
Bill 199 also applies to Hilo International Airport, and developers have expressed some interest in a hotel there as well, said Wong Yuen.
“This would obviously apply to the Hilo airport as well,” Wong Yuen said. “There has been interest but not formal. … It’s all informal by one developer.”
Although no one testified on the bill Tuesday, North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said she’s heard from many people concerned about a hotel being built on the Kona coastline. Almost a dozen testifiers expressed their concerns when the Leeward Planning Commission took up the plan in August. The commission voted unanimously in favor.
“For me, the airport is already, you might say, a blight on a pristine coastline,” Eoff said. “I was told in no way — this is not a resort type hotel that would be envisioned.”
Eoff asked how the public can stay involved in the process, and as told by Yee that at minimum, the project will require a special management area permit. A major SMA permit will take the project back before the Leeward Planning commission, giving the public opportunity to weigh in.
“I will make sure there is adequate review going forward,” Eoff said.
In addition, the airport master plan might need an updated environmental assessment, which would also allow public input.
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David said she’d also be watching the project.
“I reiterate on the county level we have the SMA permit process where the public will be engaged and can contribute comments through the entire process,” David said.