15-year-old problem may cost county


The Hawaii County Council plans to dip into open space funds to stave off a lawsuit caused by a 1999 misstep by the county Planning Department.

At issue was the creation of an oceanfront lot along Government Beach Road in Hawaiian Paradise Park by combining a lot in the agricultural zone with one in the conservation district. The county created two such combined lots without approval by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, under then county Planning Director Virginia Goldstein.

Now the owners of one of the combined lots are threatening to sue under what county attorneys have dubbed an “inadvertent consolidation/resubdivision of conservation land.” The second landowner may also sue.

Each lot is about 6 acres and worth about $400,000, according to county Planning Department and Finance Department documents.

Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan has brought up a plan for the county to purchase one of the lots, using money collected in the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission, or PONC, funds. Ilagan, at a June 17 meeting of the council Finance Committee, pointed out the site’s 67 archaeological features include four Native Hawaiian burial grounds, including a pre-Western contact burial platform.

“For PONC funds to purchase property, this is the ideal site,” Ilagan said.

Several council members are hesitant, saying there is a process for land to be purchased using PONC funds. The Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission annually prioritizes a list based on public input and other factors, and then the County Council works off that list.

“We have an act of misfeasance by the county that we’re trying to cover up by a misuse of PONC funds,” South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford told the committee.

The public has submitted 165 parcels for PONC consideration since the program was created in 2006, after a charter amendment directing a minimum of 2 percent of property tax revenues be set aside in the account to purchase public lands. The county has so far bought eight or nine parcels and has a balance of about $4 million, some of which may be encumbered by pending purchases.

Ford and several other West Hawaii council members suggested the county administration use money in its litigation or executive accounts instead of tapping PONC.

“Of course this property is going to be very valuable to the county’s inventory of public land, especially along the shoreline and especially with all the archaeological and historical significance,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff. “Whether open space funds are appropriate for the purchase of the property … We should explore other avenues as well.”

Using the money without going through the PONC Commission is not unheard of, but it isn’t the usual way, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Bill Brilhante. He added that the council has the authority to spend the money as the commission is only advisory in nature.

Ilagan pushed for immediate action on the measure, rather than postponing it to get input from the PONC Commission. He and Puna Councilman Zendo Kern noted that Hawaiian Paradise Park, a subdivision of more than 8,000 lots, has very little if any public oceanfront land or public parks.

“I know it’s a little bit out of order,” Kern said. “That doesn’t bother me. It’s still buyable.”

“This is just us being so proactive that we are ahead of the game,” Ilagan said.

A 4-4 deadlock along East-West lines killed a motion to postpone, with Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi absent. The final vote on the measure, Resolution 451, is scheduled for the County Council’s meeting Wednesday in Hilo.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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