By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Mac McInnis hadn’t lived in his Kona Orchards home a week before a neighbor stopped by to ask McInnis to come testify against a rezoning project down the road.
Not one to just stand up and say he was opposed to something without a good reason, McInnis began digging into the Hualalai Partners’ proposed development on just less than 15 acres off Hualalai Road. Three years later, McInnis has detailed documents outlining both the path that led to what one former county planning director called a “fragmented approach” to development and strong opinions on how Hawaii County could improve especially the Planned Unit Development process.
The Hawaii County Council Planning Committee will hear two bills proposing reforms to that process at a 9:15 a.m. Tuesday hearing in Hilo. Video conference equipment will be available for county residents to provide testimony and view the committee’s discussion at the West Hawaii Civic Center, the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Community Center and the council offices in Waimea and Pahoa.
Planned Unit Developments, referred to by county officials as PUDs, allow for variances from county zoning and subdivision requirements, generally allowing a developer to get smaller lots than would be allowed under the applicable zoning code.
Right now, the county planning director has the final say in whether the PUD application is granted, and only neighbors within 1,000 feet of the property lines are notified an application has been filed. McInnis said he and his neighbors have several concerns with that existing process.
“The PUD process has no accountability,” McInnis said. “It goes before an appointed individual, not elected officials you can hold accountable.”
The lack of public meetings is also a problem, creating a lack of transparency in the process, he said. Further, anyone who doesn’t have a significant knowledge of real estate and land development may not even know the right questions to ask if given the opportunity to meet with a developer. McInnis said he and his neighbors want the opportunity to ask questions of council members, get “logical” answers and have all the proposed variances made public before any decision is made.
Former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann last year proposed a bill amending the section of the code on PUDs that would give the council the final authority in the matter. His measure, Bill 291, beefed up the code by also requiring a preliminary site plan and giving the council the authority to impose conditions on the PUD.
Then Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd raised questions about whether those changes would even be allowed under the county charter. The charter, Planning Department staff said in a report to the Leeward Planning Commission late last year, says the director shall render decisions on proposed variances.
In response to Hoffmann’s bill, Leithead Todd drafted Bill 59, which proposes a few changes to the PUD rules, but not the major overhaul Hoffmann recommended.
Both planning commissions returned unfavorable recommendations for Hoffmann’s bill and favorable recommendations for Leithead-Todd’s proposed bill.
The Windward Planning Commission, in a March letter to the council, noted members also encouraged the council to consider expanding the distance from a proposed PUD a property could be located and get notice of the application. Leeward Planning commissioners recommended the director have 90 days, not 60, to deny or approve an application and added a requirement to hold a public meeting within 60 days of the application being accepted.
Leithead Todd’s approval of the South Kona Waikakuu Ranch PUD a few years ago ended up in 3rd Circuit Court this year, where Judge Ronald Ibarra ruled the county acted in violation of the Kona Community Development Plan and failed to uphold the county’s duty to protect natural resources in granting the application. Ibarra ordered the PUD be sent back to the Planning Department.
Email Erin Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.