Monday | August 21, 2017
About Us | Contact | Subscribe

Circus to go before commission


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Windward Planning Commission today will reconsider the fate of a popular performing arts center in Kalapana Seaview Estates.

Commissioners on May 3 had voted to continue until today a hearing to revoke a 2001 special permit for the Hawaii’s Volcano Circus. Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd had recommended revoking the permit after receiving complaints by neighbors. The delayed hearing gave the nonprofit time to file an amended permit.

Hilo attorney Ted Hong, who is representing the Hawaii’s Volcano Circus, said that today he seeks to “show the commission that we’ve complied with all the terms and conditions that they set.”

The organization received its permit for the establishment of a performing arts educational center on 2.5 acres of land within a larger 10-acre site within a State Land Use Agricultural District.

Since then, under the direction of Graham Ellis, the center has grown to include the Seaview Performing Arts Center for Education, or SPACE, and an “eco village” called Bellyacres. Kula Kalapana, a satellite program of the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science Public Charter School, is also based at the center.

After complaints from the public about activities at the center that far exceeded its original permit, the Planning Commission continued the revocation hearing. In the interim, Leithead Todd allowed the farmers market to continue on Saturdays and granted one performance by charter school students per month, but also she notified the nonprofit that it had erected several buildings that were not permitted structures.

The amended filing seeks to increase the total land area covered by the permit to 3.377 acres. It also seeks permission for a Saturday farmers market from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., an increase in the maximum student population to 75, and the development of two additional classrooms.

HVC is also seeking permission to have up to 12 public performances and 12 evening fundraiser performances annually, the establishment of a certified kitchen and the ability to host community meetings and family events. These events, the application says, would not continue past 7 p.m.

Currently, no public performances are allowed.

Noise levels would be capped at 65 decibels at the property line, down from the allowed 70 decibels in agricultural-zoned land.

The 12 public performances that HVC is seeking permission to have would allow to 300 attendees, ending by 9:30 p.m.; the 12 dinner shows would have up to 200 attendees, ending by 9 p.m.

“These 24 performances will provide essential experience for the training of our students alongside seasoned professionals and will generate essential revenue to support our community programs,” the application said.

Following a meeting with Hong, Leithead Todd and Planning Commission chair pro tem Dean Au on Wednesday, the Planning Department director declined to comment on HVC’s proposed amendments.

Hong is representing several clients before the commission today.

In an unrelated matter, Hong is also representing Suzanne Bennett and Jean McKeague, who operate Shady Grove School on 5th Avenue in Hawaiian Paradise Park. They established the school as a homeschooling site in 1993; since 2003 the school has been operating as a satellite learning and education center for HAAS.

In January, Bennett and McKeague were informed by Leithead Todd that someone complained about a school operating without a special permit, which is a zoning code violation.

The applicants submitted the permit application to correct the violation. They also enlisted the students and parents in a letter-writing campaign to rally support for the school.

One letter, written in purple by fourth-grader Jimi Little, states that Shady Grove is “a perfect school for me” and, in all-capital letters, urges the county: “Please don’t demolish Shady Grove!”

Another letter writer compares Shady Grove favorably to “Pahoa School,” where she was bullied and “you had to play whatever the teacher told you to and play where ever they told you to. They treated us like robots.”

Leithead Todd is recommending that the commission approve the special permit for up to 38 students, finding that it meets the conditions required to receive the permit.

Also up for discussion is a request by Connections New Century Public Charter School for its controversial request to develop a K-12 charter school campus on 70 acres of land in a Kaumana neighborhood.

Hong, again, will represent the school before the commission.

“We’re asking for a continuance because we haven’t been able to schedule a community meeting because of the lack of facilities at Kaumana Elementary School,” he said. That community meeting is one of the conditions required for approval of a permit.

A community meeting is scheduled for the latter half of December, he said.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. today at the Aupuni Center conference room, 101 Pauahi St., in Hilo. Along with other items, the Windward Planning Commission is set to hear public statements and vote on issuing the permit for Shady Grove School beginning at 9 a.m.

Commissioners will discuss Hawaii’s Volcano Circus at 10 a.m., and the Connections school at noon, followed by a discussion regarding potential geothermal energy impact mitigation procedures at 1:30 p.m.

Email Peter Sur at


Rules for posting comments