By ERIN MILLER
A 3rd Circuit Court judge has stopped at least some development at the Villages of Aina Lea project in South Kohala until the land owner files a supplemental environmental impact statement.
Judge Elizabeth Strance ruled Monday that the project’s final environmental impact statement was inadequate, and remanded the case back to the Hawaii County Planning Department. Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said Tuesday the county had reached the same conclusion, after getting a late look at a joint development agreement between Bridge Aina Lea, which owns about 2,000 agricultural-zoned acres at the site, and DW Aina Lea, which owns about 1,000 urban-zoned acres.
Leithead Todd said her staff should have noticed the document was missing when the EIS came in for review.
“We weren’t sure if it was inadvertent or intentional,” Leithead Todd said. “My staff should have caught it.”
The document made it “very clear the two entities are joined at the hip” and the broader property should have been considered for the environmental review, she added.
Once DW Aina Lea submits the updated environmental reviews, the Mauna Lani Resort Association, which sued in 2011 over its concerns about the EIS, and others may again offer their comments on the project and its possible environmental impacts, Leithead Todd said.
Strance’s ruling included an order to toll development, but Leithead Todd said that only applies to permits issued relating to a wastewater treatment plant on the site. She said building permits are not directly tied to the wastewater treatment plant permit, although connection to a plant is required for the county to issue a certificate of occupancy.
“We intend to continue to develop the project and provide residential housing,” DW Aina Lea’s attorney, Jerel Yamamoto, said.
Roy Vitousek, the attorney representing the Mauna Lani Resort Association, said Strance stopped work on the entire project.
Vitousek said his clients and the state Office of Planning argued DW Aina Lea and Bridge Aina Lea, which sold the smaller portion of land to DW Aina Lea, were “segmenting” the project to avoid having to mitigate potentially larger environmental issues. The two companies did not provide a copy of their joint development agreement until very recently, Vitousek said.
Vitousek said the Mauna Lani Resort Association had concerns about impacts to ground water, as well as to the shoreline resources it maintains at the resort makai of the proposed Aina Lea development.
“I think the county certainly understands a project of that magnitude — at one point they were talking about five golf courses — can have significant impacts on ground water,” Vitousek said. “Hopefully the county really takes a hard look at it.”
The project has been mired in controversy the last few years, and has been on the books for more than two decades. Nansay Inc. first proposed the project, mauka of Queen Kaahumanu Highway, then sold the land after receiving a change in land use classification. In 2009, right as Bridge Aina Lea was transferring a portion of the land to DW Aina Lea, the Land Use Commission tried to rescind the project’s urban land use classification, claiming the series of developers involved with the project had failed to meet development conditions, including building affordable town homes by November 2010.
Strance ruled last year the LUC overstepped its bounds in voting to rescind the urban classification. Hawaii County officials have since allowed DW Aina Lea to continue developing its parcel, which is just a portion of the land once intended to be part of the Aina Lea project. The state Attorney General’s Office is appealing that ruling.
Email Erin Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.