HILO — After six years of testifying before the County Council, Kohala Councilwoman-elect Margaret Wille will soon take a seat on the other side of the dais. Her biggest priority: getting the Community Development Plan committees the respect she says they deserve.
The CDPs were created to give the public more input in how their communities should look. But CDP action committees have increasingly run afoul of the county Planning Department because of misunderstandings between the two bodies over how much power the CDP committees actually have.
“They’re the most quasi-local government these communities have,” Wille said.
Wille envisions the CDP action committees as similar to the neighborhood boards on Oahu. On that island, the neighborhood boards vet and provide input to the Honolulu City Council on proposed developments. She said she doesn’t think the county ordinance needs to be changed as much as there needs to be an educational process for communities and the administration.
“I feel that the legislation is there, but they’re not being given their due,” Wille said. “Right now, I don’t think we need another law, but we need to more effectively use the one we have.”
But Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd disagrees that the County Council ever contemplated giving CDPs so much power when they were created during the Mayor Harry Kim administration. Leithead Todd said each of the island’s CDPs have evolved differently, but she hopes to see them recommending amendments to the county’s general plan as well as recommending capital improvement projects to the County Council.
“They were never intended to be mini-planning commissions,” Leithead Todd said, adding that the county added the CDP process about the same time it split the Planning Commission into Leeward and Windward Planning Commissions to make them more responsive to community concerns.
The conflict has escalated into a lawsuit over the Kona CDP.
Richard and Patricia Missler are fighting a proposed planned unit development called Waikakuu Ranch in South Kona. Last month, they filed a lawsuit in 3rd Circuit Court, naming the county Planning Department and Board of Appeals among other defendants, because those agencies declared CDPs have no say over planned unit developments.
Both Wille and Leithead Todd want to keep the communication channels open.
“I can help educate other council members and the administration to appreciate and understand the value of the CDPs,” Wille said.
Leithead Todd said her department has recently changed its procedure in order to share information with the CDP committees in a more timely fashion. Previously, the Planning Department shared semimonthly listings of applications; now it’s started to send out cover sheets on variance and other applications that require notification of neighbors. That way, the CDP committee can review the file if the application is of interest, she said.