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Public Access Commission eyes 12 parcels for purchase

Updated: 
July 13, 2017 - 7:44am
Corrections: 
This article has been corrected to reflect that Toni Withington, testifying before the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission on Monday, was representing Kamakani O Kohala Ohana, Malama Na Wahi Pana O Kohala, Maikai Kamakani O Kohala and Malama Kohala Kahakai. In addition, she was quoting an unnamed resident, not making the comments herself, in her quote that appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the newspaper.

HILO — A list of properties to be ranked for public purchase next year is dominated by North Kohala, which accounts for seven of the 12 properties on the list.

Three Ka‘u properties and one each from South Kona and South Hilo complete the list approved Monday by the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission. The deadline for nominations was June 30.

The commission will next visit some of the properties before sending a ranked list to the administration and County Council for consideration for purchase.

Most of the North Kohala proposals were submitted by Toni Withington representing Kamakani O Kohala Ohana, Malama Na Wahi Pana O Kohala, Maikai Kamakani O Kohala and Malama Kohala Kahakai.

“It can be oceanfront homes for rich people, or it can be ours,” Withington said, quoting an unnamed resident about the North Kohala coastline. “We would like to see the entire coastline open.”

Withington said the community is working to get matching grants to help with land purchases.

An eighth proposed Kohala purchase, property near the Pololu Valley Lookout, was struck from the list after the property owner, KP Holdings LLC, informed the commission it wasn’t for sale.

Bill Shontell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the company, said he’s been working with neighbors, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and state Rep. Cindy Evan’s office on a solution to the overcrowding and parking problems near the popular site. KP Holdings, in fact, has offered up some of its land on the mauka side of Akoni Pule Highway for parking and restrooms.

“At the same time, we made it clear that we would not entertain the use of any of our lands located makai of the highway for this effort,” Shontell said. “We are not interested in parting with the makai property and any attempt to include that property in any proposed solution will result in our withdrawal from the discussion.”

Another popular West Hawaii property is the site of the so-called “Lost City” in South Kona. The 46-acre parcel runs from Highway 11 to the coastline, connecting with established historic trails along the way. The property has many historic features and is home to the endangered black thorn sphinx moth, supporters said.

“It might not be the biggest property, but it has a lot going for it,” said Debbie Fowler.

One commissioner worried that development was already overtaking the area. She urged a PONC subcommittee inspect the property.

“I can’t help but wonder if there’s anything left to protect,” she said.

Ka‘u properties under consideration include the Ka‘u Sugar Mill Park and properties in the Waikapuna, Kahilipali Iki and Kahilipali Nui areas.

The south Hilo property added to the list is adjacent to Mill Road.

The PONC program was created in 2006, after a charter amendment passed directing a minimum of 2 percent of property tax revenues be set aside in the account to purchase public lands. Another one-quarter of one percent is dedicated to maintenance of the purchased properties.

The land buying fund now sits at about $12.7 million, with the most recent purchase happening in November, when $721,979 was spent for coastal property at Kahuku.

By law, the county can’t pay more than the value determined by an independent appraiser. Sometimes landowners donate all or part of their property to the county.

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