Planning Department faces scrutiny
By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Proposed developments in South Kona and Kohala sparked concerns Tuesday over whether the county Planning Department is paying enough attention to Community Development Plan committees when making decisions.
Regional Community Development Plans, or CDPs, are created to translate broad General Plan goals, policies and standards into implementation actions as they apply to specific geographical regions around the island, according to the Planning Department. CDPs are also intended to serve as a forum for community input into land use, delivery of government services and any other matters relating to the planning area.
But some County Council members say county development tools such as planned unit developments and minor use permits for special management areas give an appointed administrator too much power because there is limited to no opportunity for public comment.
Planned unit developments, or PUDs, are of particular concern to South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford. She pointed to a recent court ruling that found the county at fault in granting the proposed Waikakuu Ranch development as an example.
“PUDs are being used by developers to avoid scrutiny,” Ford said. “I hate PUDs. I think they are an abuse of the system, abuse of the public and (they) disallow public comment.”
Planning Director Duane Kanuha, in a discussion with the council Planning Committee, defended the department’s PUD approvals.
“It’s part of the whole review package,” Kanuha said. “The criteria is in the code.”
Patricia and Richard Missler , whose neighborhood is next to Waikakuu Ranch, sued the Hawaii County Board of Appeals for a decision supporting a Planning Department approval of the PUD plan. The Misslers’ attorney argued the county failed to take the Kona Community Development Plan into consideration when approving the PUD, and failed to conduct site inspections and environmental surveys.
Judge Ronald Ibarra ruled the planning director acted in violation of the development plan and failed to uphold the county’s duty to protect natural resources. The council was scheduled to get an update on the case late Tuesday.
Several members of the public echoed that sentiment testifying before the Finance Committee on an unrelated development, where the council is being asked to accept a shoreline access trail from Kohala Kai LLC. The proposed development contains seven oceanfront lots ranging in size from five to 28 acres on a 63-acre tract north of Kawaihae Harbor and just south of Keawewai Gulch. The lots are expected to be sold for $4 million and up.
Four testifiers, opposing the public access easements that were a condition of development of the luxury development, said the public is being shortchanged and the North Kohala Community Development Plan committee wasn’t informed.
“It doesn’t seem like our CDP means anything,” said Mike Isaacs, of the Kohala Historic and Cultural Preservation Group. “It seems to me the Planning Department makes all the decisions.”
Larry Brown, with the Planning Department’s Long-Range Division, said the Kohala Kai approvals pre-dated the creation of the CDP.
After learning that the developers are providing only three parking spaces, that a trail along the shoreline has been moved closer to the ocean than the original historic trail and that