Measure to delete General Plan deadline advances


County planners can’t meet the deadline to update the General Plan, so they’re asking County Council to delete the deadline from the law.

The General Plan is the policy document for the long-range comprehensive development of Hawaii Island. Last updated in February 2005, it is scheduled to have a new update completed by February 2015.

Updating the plan as required every 10 years takes several years itself, and apparently, the Planning Department hasn’t yet begun the task.

The County Council Planning Committee on Wednesday voted 7-2 to recommend changing the wording of the county code so a comprehensive review of the General Plan must be initiated by the Planning Department no more than 10 years after the adoption of the previous plan. The current code says the new plan amendments must be submitted to County Council within 10 years.

The committee’s recommendation faces two more votes at the County Council level.

Planning Director Duane Kanuha, addressing the committee, said a combination of factors caused the plan amendment process to slip off the drawing board.

First, the department, under the previous director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, was busy creating Community Development Plans to allow more community input into the planning process. That pulled staff off the General Plan during the recession years when furloughs and position freezes led to staff shortages.

“Once you have the Community Development Plans adopted … then the General Plan becomes a linkage that keeps the Community Development Plans together,” Kanuha said. “I don’t see there’s a need to integrate any policy plans.”

The county currently has five CDPs — Kona, South Kohala, North Kohala, Puna and Downtown Hilo — and two more — Ka‘u and Hamakua — in the works.

Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter said she can accept the delay in the General Plan because the creation of CDPs has really helped the communities.

“The benefit for that was for our communities in that we have a CDP,” Poindexter said. “The communities made out here, and I think we benefited.”

Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan agreed.

“I’d rather not force you to put out whatever,” he said. “If you need the time to be able to give us a better plan, I’d rather give that to you.”

The two dissenting council members, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford and Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, objected to the open-ended nature of the proposed code amendment.

The amendment sets a start date, but there is no deadline for completion, they pointed out.

“We can’t make the deadline, period, therefore we’re asking for no deadline,” Ford characterized the department’s request. “We’re not going to make the deadline that we’ve known about for 10 years.”

Wille suggested the Planning Department could carve up the work, sending the various components to the county’s citizen commissions. The Cultural Resources Commission could take the cultural components, for example, she said.

“Take a couple chapters and go for it,” Wille said.

Leithead Todd, who is now Environmental Management director after a stint as Planning director, said after the meeting the previous practice was to start the new General Plan 10 years after the implementation of the previous one, but County Council changed the law in 2005 to require it more promptly.

She said the last plan published prior to the 2005 plan was the 1989 plan.

The purpose of the General Plan is to guide the pattern of future development, identify the visions, values and priorities important to the people of the county, provide the framework for regulatory decisions, capital improvement priorities, acquisition strategies and other government programs, improve the physical environment of the county and “inject long-range considerations into the determination of short-range actions and implementation,” according to the preface of the document.

The 396-page plan can be viewed at cohplanningdept.com/community-planning/general-plan.

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

 

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