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County won’t get control of Banyan Drive

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald The Naniloa Volcanoes Resort is seen here in February.</p><p>The Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is seen in February.</p>

By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The state should maintain control of the Banyan Drive hotel properties and the Hapuna Beach and Mauna Kea parks, lawmakers have decided.

Hawaii County had sought to own, or at least control, those lands through legislation this session.

Mayor Billy Kenoi has said he believes the county could better manage or utilize them and noted particular concern with the Banyan Drive area, which has been plagued by a lack of investment by some hotel owners.

The House Committee on Water and Land earlier this month decided against either leasing or transferring the park and hotel lands to the county.

The bills regarding the Hapuna Beach and Mauna Kea state recreation areas were either held or deferred March 15. A new version of the Banyan Drive bill remains alive.

But rather than putting the county in control of the properties, and, therefore responsible for negotiating land leases with hotels, the amended version would instead create a “Banyan Drive Community Development Board.”

That board would include state and Big Island representatives and be responsible for creating development plans or recommendations for the hotel properties and related duties.

Kenoi said that approach could help improve the area but he is concerned about action being slow and unresponsive.

“We can’t have more studies,” he said, adding that the hotels are key for attracting mainland flights to Hilo.

“People are flying to Hilo and going to Waikoloa to get a hotel room,” Kenoi said.

The bill is similar to the community development district proposed by Rep. Mark Nakashima, D-Hilo, Hamakua. But unlike with Nakashima’s bill, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources would remain the land owner.

Rep. Cindy Evans, the Water and Land chair, said there were apparent problems with DLNR leasing the Banyan Drive area to the county, as lawmakers most recently proposed. The bill would have initially transferred the land to the county but was later amended due to concerns of ownership over ceded lands.

The lease approach would have created a potentially convoluted arrangement, where the hotels leased the land from the county which in turn leased it from the state.

In his written testimony, DLNR Chair William Aila said the hotels would have to amend their leases to accommodate that approach, creating a cumbersome situation for the state and lessees.

“Obtaining all of the required subordinations could be a major undertaking in itself,” he said.

The bulk of the properties are ceded lands, meaning the county would have to pay fair market price for the lease rather than a nominal $1 fee, said Evans, D-Kona, South Kohala.

Evans said forming a community development board would provide the long-range planning and local input needed to better utilize the area while keeping lease revenue for DLNR.

“It is time that we do more proactive land management,” she said.

The committee didn’t pass the Hapuna Beach and Mauna Kea park bills because it felt the discussion would be better handled directly between the DLNR, its board and the county, Evans said.

Under their amended versions, both bills would have allowed the county to lease, and therefore, manage, the parks rather than gaining ownership.

Kenoi, who believes neither park is being used to their full potential, said he has tried for years to work directly with DLNR on transferring the parks and was frustrated with the committee’s decision.

“Year after year we’ve gone to DLNR … and we’re fed up to be perfectly honest,” he said.

“For the House not to recognize the mismanagement of these important assets is outrageous.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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