By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
A compromise that would bring a little more transparency to the process of creating a Planned Unit Development is being crafted by the County Council Planning Committee, which on Tuesday seemed closer to an alternative offered by the administration over a bill sponsored by a council member.
The committee agreed to postpone a decision until the recently appointed planning director, Duane Kanuha, has an opportunity to study the issue and come up with a bill that incorporates portions of both bills.
“It’s clear to me that neither bill is ready to be voted on,” said Council Chairman J Yoshimoto. “Both need improvement.”
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. Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille is now sponsoring that measure.
In response to Hoffmann’s bill, former Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd drafted Bill 59, which proposes a few changes to the PUD rules, but not the major overhaul Hoffmann recommended. She says the county charter requires the director to render decisions on proposed variances.
Kanuha said the PUD has been characterized as allowing more leeway from county code than is warranted.
“A PUD is not a rezoning,” Kanuha said. “The PUD cannot give you uses that are not allowed by the particular zone.”
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford said the PUD process is cumbersome, shuts out the public, allows preferential treatment of some developers, and results in “arbitrary and capricious” decisions by the Planning Department.
“We’re losing lawsuits on this,” Ford said. “It’s causing tremendous uproar out there.”
About a half-dozen speakers testifying from the West Hawaii Civic Center said they favored increased transparency in the process, no matter which version is chosen or whose name is on the final product.
“The current PUD process is autocratic and archaic,” said Mary Kay McInnis, a resident of the Kona Orchid subdivision. “It needs to be transferred to an elected body such as the County Council, a body that is accountable to the citizens and the taxpayers.”
“In planning today, we have public participation as a basic element of any planning,” said Cyrus Sabri, who said he is a professor of urban planning. “But we are usually blindsided by any decision the Planning Department makes.”
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.
Wille characterized the current process as a futile “talk to the hand” endeavor.
“It’s totally discretionary with one bureaucrat,” Wille said. “Regardless of who it is, the experience is the input from the public is minimized.”
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