Verizon Wireless on Thursday received Hawaii County Leeward Planning Commission approval to construct a 114-foot stealth telecommunications tower that the applicant said will improve cellphone reception in South Kona.
The commission’s four members voted unanimously during the monthly meeting held in Kailua-Kona to approve a special permit for Cellco Partnership, which does business as Verizon Wireless, to construct the tower on about 900 square feet of land mauka of Mamalahoa Highway, near mile marker 96, in South Kona. The tower also will include 8-foot panel antennas and related facilities.
No public testimony was given in regard to the proposed telecommunications tower.
The pole, said Les Young, an attorney representing Verizon, would be built to look like a pine tree, also called a “monopine” tower so as not to have as much of a visual impact. The design change followed concerns raised by the State Historic Preservation Division that a basic monopole would have a visual impact on historic sites found on a nearby property.
While the monopine, which costs 30 to 40 percent more, will reduce the visual impact the tower might have, Young said it can create some challenges should up to two other carriers want to use the same tower. That’s because in order for an additional carrier to add on, an approximate 8-foot section of the monopine’s faux limbs would have to be removed, he said.
“As we add more below it makes the tree look less like a tree,” added Young, who noted the feat is not impossible and would cost carriers less than constructing a new tower.
“You’re taking away from the purpose of trying to make it stealth.”
The commission also approved 4-0 a five-year extension to Vipassana Hawaii to establish the Hawaii Insight Meditation Center on 15 acres near Halawa Gulch in North Kohala. Two people submitted letters and three testified in person during the hearing in support of the project.
Vipassana Hawaii previously received approval for its plans to construct a meditation center on the land in 2000, however, litigation and land reclassification and subdivision, economic conditions and a drop in capital funding by donors resulted in delays.
The department previously tolled the delay, giving Vipassana until July 1 to establish the center.
The current approval gives the nonprofit organization an additional five years to establish the meditation center, which has been reduced in scope from being able to serve 100 guests to 40 guests.
The organization also plans to grant a public access easement to the county that heads west from Kapanaia Bay to Ainakea, as well as preserve 254 acres as a conservation easement.