My Turn: Preserve what little voice Kona has

I am responding to the March 21 WHT article “Hitting the Pause Button” with the subheadline “Future Uncertain for Community Development Plan Committees and Kailua Village Design Commission.”

This was a highly troubling article that quoted the new planning director and others and said the “county has put a halt to filling citizen boards that advise the government on planning and design” until “appropriate people” can fill these positions. The article also stated that there were “conversations going on about if it’s worth continuing these commissions” (referring to the Kailua Village Design Commission).

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This is written as an individual West Hawaii resident and taxpayer, and not in any official capacity or on behalf of any others or any government entity.

I am currently a commissioner on the Hawaii County Leeward Planning Commission. I was encouraged to apply for appointment to this volunteer position in 2019 by various people and county employees, and then-North Kona Councilperson Karen Eoff suppported me for the position. Then-Mayor Harry Kim thereafter appointed me to fill a vacancy on the Leeward Planning Commission and confirmation by the County Council followed. Among other things, I used my expertise to ask, if appropriate, questions on behalf of the people of West Hawaii of developer applicants, their representatives, the Planning Department and the Planning Director (currently Mayor Roth’s appointee Zendo Kern, a former such representative).

Applicants for development or extensions of time for previously approved development have unlimited time to present their proposed projects or requests for delay and their version of impacts on the public to the Planning Department, the director, the commission and the County Council, while members of the public get 3 three minutes each to testify and can’t question the applicants directly. Thus the Planning Department and the Leeward Planning Commission may not always get the whole story, and the public and taxpayers sometimes get “thrown under the bus.”

Before this appointment, I served a full term as a commissioner on the Kailua Village Design Commission.

It wasn’t always like this. There used to be a single Planning Commission for the entire Big Island, believed to be controlled by the Hilo-based mayor. West Hawaii fought for and got its own Leeward Planning Commission, and the east side got the Windward Planning Commission. Obviously, the two sides of the Big Island each had and have their own different circumstances, peoples, and interests.

The Kailua Village Design Commission is important to preserve and protect the Hawaiian aspects of Kailua Village, and as to compliance with laws, like sign ordinances and design standards that apply only to Kailua Village over and above the county building codes. Getting Planet Fitness (at the intersection of Kuakini Highway and Henry Street) to replace its oversized temporary signs, to which many in the community objected, with smaller permanent signs that complied with sign ordinances, having developers in Kailua village replace garish paint colors with more subtle and natural shades (e.g. the new KFC on Palani Road), having the big new Niumalu shopping center (off Henry Street, location of new Safeway) have a public bus stop and better public spaces, getting in-village developers to use rock walls instead of plastic or wooden fences, are a few examples off KVDC’s good work. On every occasion, the developer was happy to accommodate and worked well with that Commission. I don’t recall any applicant being turned down by the KVDC.

By law, Kona now has its own Community Development Plan (CPD) along with its Kona committee to promote and provide input. The Kona CDP is now going through statutorily required updates, which are nearly done, and will be the plan state and county governments, prospective developers, landowners and others will look to as to future possible development and land use in Kona. Other area have their own CPDs.

There is concern that Mayor Mitch Roth and his appointee Mr. Zendo Kern may want to return to a Hilo-centric government, where prospective West Hawaii developers need only go to Hilo for the planning director’s and mayor’s approval, not to both Kona and Hilo, like now. (Remember Hokulia/Oceanside 1250?) What little voice Kona now has for its independence should be preserved, if not enhanced. From the WHT article, which quotes Mr. Kern, it appears an effort against West Hawaii will be made by starving the KVDC and the Kona CDP committee of official new members by Mr. Roth refusing to appoint commission and committee members suggested to the mayor for appointment and supported by West Hawaii councilpersons unless Mr. Kern pronounces them “appropriate” (his word), which is believed by some to mean docile and pro-development.

I think we can all agree that smart development is what’s needed in West Hawaii, in addition to and/or regardless of any East side philosophy. This requires tough questions, and answers from west-side people on west-side government boards and commissions.

They are depending on apathy and acquiescence from the west side.

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What to· do? I am talking to you, the many I know and the others I don’t know. Volunteer for government commissions, committees, and agencies; you are needed. Fill out and send in the form for volunteering for county boards and commissions. Contact your County Councilmembers to learn about these and where the vacancies are.

Mark Van Pernis is a resident of Kailua-Kona.

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