A developers seeking a subdivision code variance through a planned unit development would need to hold a public meeting before filing an application and wait for another public meeting after the planning director considers the request under proposed changes to the county code.
Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd brought those changes, and several more, to the Leeward Planning Commission Thursday morning. Her proposal is an alternative to Bill 291, which former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann brought forward last year. Hoffmann’s measure would have required the planning commissions to hear PUD applications and County Council approval.
Leithead Todd said Bill 291 would have required a County Charter amendment to be legal, so she drafted her alternate language. Her other proposals include extending the time period for the Planning Department to issue a ruling from 60 to 90 days, and changing from an automatic approval for an application on which the department doesn’t act within that time frame to an automatic denial.
The latter changes fit some of the requests Kona resident Tomoe Nimori made during the meeting. Nimori said she didn’t like the way the department grants automatic approval after 60 days.
Normita Error, another Kona resident, said her neighborhood suffered because of a PUD project.
“I’m here to plead for more transparency in the planned unit development process,” Error said. “We would like the opportunity for a final hearing before the County Council. Please do not leave us without recourse for our case.”
Leithead Todd had recommended in December the county’s two planning commissions give Bill 291 a negative recommendation, which they did.
She responded, at length, to questions from the public during Thursday’s meeting. Mary Kay McInnis said she studied an approved PUD and could not understand why Leithead Todd signed off on subdividing land in such a way that the lots were smaller than 7,500 square feet, especially when the land was zoned for 10,000-square-foot lots.
The county’s goal in granting PUD applications is to find a way to treat landowners fairly, making sure people who own similar-sized lots can subdivide the property into similar numbers of lots. The problem in Hawaii, Leithead Todd said, is topography.
“The reality is, it’s not a flat piece of land,” she said. “It means, frequently, the lots cannot be nice, rectangular lots.”
A developer seeking a PUD cannot subdivide into more lots than the zoning allows, she said, but can get smaller lots and one large lot, and that large lot can never be subdivided again.
“They cannot increase the total density,” Leithead Todd said. “That’s what a lot of people do not understand.”
Tom Madson questioned Leithead Todd on large developers trying to circumvent the requirements to take lots larger than 15 acres to the Land Use Commission for boundary amendments. The planning director said she recently denied such an application by a landowner who holds 140 acres, but was leasing out parcels of less than 15 acres.
Madson said developers were making “paper sales” of land to relatives and friends to take advantage of the rules.
“I can’t look at what people’s intent was,” Leithead Todd said. “I can look at the paperwork.”
Leeward Planning commissioners gave Leithead Todd’s proposed bill a positive recommendation and sent it to the council for consideration.