Hualalai Partners request withdrawn yet again


A proposed North Kona development hit a new roadblock Tuesday afternoon, when the county’s Planning Director announced he couldn’t find any authority to expand an urban area into an agricultural area.

After hearing Planning Director Duane Kanuha’s comments during Tuesday afternoon’s Planning Committee meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center, Hualalai Partners developer Ted Barrett withdrew the application, vowing to return, again, with a new project. Barrett in 2011 withdrew a similar project application, after seeing the County Council then would not grant his request. His proposed development included a planned unit development, which allowed for smaller than standard lot sizes.

About two dozen people who live near the proposed project, which is on Hualalai Road above Queen Kaahumanu Highway, testified numerous times before the Leeward Planning Commission and the council citing concerns about the impact on Hualalai Road and to their neighborhoods.

The latest issue, North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said, is the property is bisected by the Kona Urban Area boundary as defined in the Kona Community Development Plan, with the upper portion still designated to be intensive ag land. The council cannot expand the KCDP’s urban area into agriculture-zoned areas, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford said, calling the application “inappropriate and illegal.”

Former Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd three times assured the developer that the entire property was within the Kona Urban Area and urban expansion area, Hualalai Partners’ attorney Steven Lim said.

“It even makes sense when you look at the area,” Lim said. “Why would you have a planning line that demarcates a property?”

Kanuha said if he were asked to rule on the request, he wouldn’t be able to do so.

“There may be something I’m not aware of, but from everything I’ve been able to research, I don’t find anything that gives the planning director the ability or authority to make such a determination,” Kanuha said, to the quiet cheers of two dozen residents who oppose the development. “From that standpoint, these documents, they speak for themselves.”

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, after listening to Lim argue that the charter allows the planning director to make such interpretations, called Kanuha back to the table.

“The previous director interpreted it her way,” Onishi said. “You’re saying you cannot find anything in the charter stating the director can do what she did?”

That’s right, Kanuha said.

“I don’t see anything in the charter that says the director can interpret the general plan or community development plans,” he said. “I could say that it’s inferred. But as to it being spelled out, I can’t find it in the charter, nor can I find it in the first general plan and all the general plans that have been revised since then.”

The council’s Human Services and Social Services Committee gave unanimous support Tuesday to exemptions for a proposed affordable senior living project on Kuakini Highway.