HILO — A debate over whether the County Council or the administration should have final say on planned unit developments will be taken up again in July, after the council Planning Committee on Tuesday postponed a bill by former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann and an alternative posed by the current planning director.
Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, now sponsoring Hoffmann’s Bill 291, said important land use decisions such as variances should be made by an elected council, not a county department head. She said no other state handles large developments in such a way.
“Do we want one administrative person to have unfettered discretion or meaningful input and accountability with elected officials?” Wille asked.
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford agreed.
“It’s a developer’s dream,” Ford said. “They come before the council and get their zoning and then to the Planning Department and get up to 18 different variances. … And then the communities go crazy against those changes.”
But Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said Bill 291 runs contrary to the Hawaii County Charter, which gives the planning director that discretion, an assertion backed by Deputy Corporation Counsel Bill Brilhante.
“The charter specifically affords the director to grant variances,” Brilhante said. “Essentially a PUD is a cluster of variances.”
The county code lays out PUDs as a way “to encourage comprehensive site planning that adapts the design of development to the land, by allowing diversification in the relationships of various uses, buildings, structures, open spaces and yards, building heights, and lot sizes in planned building groups, while still ensuring that the intent of this chapter is observed.”
Bill 59 submitted by Leithead Todd would require developers to hold public meetings on their applications. 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.
“This bill does address the public’s right to know what’s going on within their communities,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha.
That still didn’t satisfy Ford.
“We’ve had some very prestigious attorneys come in and say there is nothing wrong with (Bill 291),” Ford said, “And we’re going to let the developers come in and get everything they want.”