Concessions by the developer of the luxury Kohala Kai subdivision in response to public concerns weren’t enough reassurance Tuesday for the County Council Finance Committee, which voted unanimously to postpone acceptance of a public shoreline easement to give the developer time to meet once more with the community.
After debating the issue for almost three hours, the Finance Committee will take it up again Jan. 21.
Developers’ attorney Steven Lim in a letter Monday agreed to widen a shoreline trail from 10 feet to 20 feet, and agreed that the county’s acceptance of the public easement does not bind the public to give up any existing rights to ownership or use of the historical Ala Loa trail within the property.
“We tried to address to the extent we can, the concerns of the community,” Lim told the committee Tuesday. “Kohala Kai followed all the rules.”
But dissenters, such as Charles Flaherty, said the assurances about the Ala Loa trail are meaningless because the trail is not outlined on the subdivision plat map, so potential owners of the lots would not know there was a historical right to cross the property.
Resolution 140, which the committee has been struggling with since July, accepts a public easement as a condition of development. The easement would allow for a public trail from Akoni Pule Highway to the shoreline and a lateral trail along the ocean, but does not take into account the Ala Loa trail, believed to follow a jeep road that runs through the property.
The resolution got stymied when council members learned that the developers are providing only three parking spaces, that a trail along the shoreline has been moved closer to the ocean than the original trail and that parts of a historical trail have been paved over.
The development will include a private beach clubhouse and golf course as part of its amenities.
Puna Councilman Zendo Kern said it would be best to accept the new coastal trail, as it would serve the public best, while separating the Ala Loa trail issue from the debate.
“We don’t have the authority as a council to get into the Ala Loa trail,” Kern said. “We need to separate this out.”
The project, by Kohala Kai LLC, contains seven oceanfront lots ranging in size from 5 to 28 acres on a 63-acre tract north of Kawaihae Harbor and just south of Keawewai Gulch. The lots are expected to be sold for $4 million and up.
Former Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd last year approved the location of the trail as a condition of the special management area permit needed for development. The appeal deadline of 30 days has long since run out.
Native Hawaiians, historical and cultural practitioners, community planners and environmental advocates on Tuesday spoke with one voice, opposing the development and asking the county to undo what a previous council had done.
“We don’t know how you people got permission for what you have done, but it is really wrong,” said Kuulei McCarthy.
Shane Nelson, community outreach coordinator for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, cited several court cases showing how the state constitution and state laws require developers to honor Native Hawaiian historical trails.
“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs wishes to avoid further litigation to force government to full its constitutional and statutory responsibilities, as set forth, time and again, by admonishing judicial decisions, many occurring right here in Hawaii County,” OHA said in a letter Nelson gave the council.
“It is our sincere hope that this honorable Hawaii County Council will ensure that the county of Hawaii and its departments uphold the law,” the eight-page letter concludes.
The subdivision was a two-part process, and the first portion of seven lots has already been approved, without regard to the Ala Loa trail. County planners are concerned the county would lose more access if the council rejects the easements for the second portion, composed of five lots.
“We’re fortunate enough that the second application for five lots is still open,” so the public access can run continuously across the entire parcel of land, said Deputy Corporation Counsel William Brilhante.
North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, who worked for public shoreline access before becoming a council member, expressed frustration with how the issue got so convoluted.
“This is very difficult because there’s been a series of wrongdoings going back to the 1930s,” Eoff said. “There have been things done that cannot be undone.”