By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Palamanui developers want to get out of building one connector road within the North Kona project, and switch the burden of completing a regional park to Hawaii County, according to a request for amendments filed late last month.
County officials on Friday indicated the developer will face tough scrutiny for the requests.
“There is no way this administration would allow the burden to be shifted from the developer who made commitments and obligations to the community that expects those commitments and obligations to be fulfilled,” Mayor Billy Kenoi said.
Kenoi hadn’t yet seen the amendment requests, but his initial reaction was one of opposition. He said he couldn’t see a reason why the county, “absent a dramatically compelling reason” to grant the amendment requests, would do so.
The amendment request must first be filed with the Planning Department, which makes a recommendation to the Leeward Planning Commission. Those commissioners would then either give the request a favorable or unfavorable recommendation and send the amendments on to the County Council.
“Promises made are promises to be kept,” Kenoi said. “We made it clear.”
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford was equally blunt.
“If they can’t meet the terms and conditions of the original order, which I thought was far too lax, the permits should be pulled,” Ford said Friday morning.
Ford was adamantly opposed to a number of the conditions, as her fellow council members approved them, in 2009. She brought forward 39 pages of amendments to the conditions, in an attempt to set stricter requirements for Palamanui. Her amendments ultimately failed.
“I warned that council they were going to do this,” Ford said. “Here we are, four years later.”
Palamanui officials offered financial concerns, updated traffic studies and the Kona Community Development Plan as reasons to approve their amendments.
Palamanui Global Holdings Director of Governmental Affairs Roger Harris argued that the amendments the company set forth were bringing the project into compliance with the KCDP.
First, the letter filed with the Planning Department said Palamanui officials no longer want to be required to build what is called Road 1, a mauka-makai connector at the mauka end of the project, which would mostly be built on private and state land just outside the Palamanui land and connect with Mamalahoa Highway. The KCDP doesn’t list Road 1 as necessary for traffic concurrency, officials argued.
They also pointed to a 2012 traffic impact analysis report, which showed no increase in traffic on Queen Kaahumanu Highway and a decrease in traffic on Mamalahoa Highway since a 2004 report. The latest report concludes Road 1 is not necessary to meet traffic demands created by Palamanui, officials said.
“When the original traffic study was done, a lot of development was being proposed on the west side,” Palamanui General Manager Norm Stuard said. “Most projects just didn’t come to fruition.”
The report also indicated 85 percent of traffic generated within Palamanui would want to head either north or south on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, not head mauka to Mamalahoa Highway, Hunt Development Group Hawaii Division President Steve Colon added.
Road 1 will be built, eventually, Harris said. Palamanui just doesn’t want to be the one to build it, he said. Public Works Director Warren Lee said his department had reviewed preliminary reports and plans Palamanui had submitted for the road. DPW would not be pursuing a right-of-way until those reviews were complete, he said.
Palamanui officials are also asking to hold off on building the intersection with Queen Kaahumanu Highway and the road that connects with the highway.
The council in 2009 instructed the developer to complete that road and intersection, as well as the college campus that has always been offered as the incentive to approve the development, by 2012. Former Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd authorized an administrative extension of that deadline, giving Palamanui until March 2015 to complete University Drive, which will connect to Queen Kaahumanu Highway, and until March 2017 to complete the intersection there.
The developers now want to be able to complete those roads “on or before a Certificate of Occupancy is issued for any portion of the subject property or the completion of any single-family residential homes, whichever comes first.”
“Despite Palamanui’s best efforts, it cannot complete these improvements by the dates set (in 2015 and 2017),” officials said in their amendment request. “This is a unique, challenging project, whose timing has been affected by the long economic downturn and the related unprecedented drop in the Hawaii Island housing market.”
That leaves the sole access to the property, where a community college campus is expected to open in 2015, via a connection with Kaiminani Drive.
Finally, Palamanui had agreed, in 2009, to build a 20-acre regional park with a soccer filed, Little League and PONY League baseball/softball fields and a dog park prior to the completion of the 101st dwelling. They now want the park completed in increments, with Palamanui responsible for the first 10 acres, grading and building the soccer field, access drive and paved parking area, comfort station, a tot lot and large grassed areas. The county would then be responsible for the second half of the park. Harris cited the KCDP as justification for the change.
That plan “doesn’t call for large parks, just civic spaces,” which could be parks or passive open space, Harris said.
Ford disagreed with Palamanui officials’ interpretation of the KCDP. The arguments about road concurrency, as put forth in the amendment request, do not match the KCDP, she said.
She was especially upset about the changes to the park condition.
“I fought to get the park locked in the bill,” she said. “It should have been (built) from (when Palamanui built) the first house.”
Email Erin Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.