By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
The University of Hawaii at Hilo moved a step closer Thursday to a rezoning that would make it easier to erect housing and commercial facilities on 312 acres that includes the campus and surrounding land, despite concerns over the county surrendering a future connector road slated to run through the campus.
The Windward Planning Commission voted 6-1 to forward the plan to the County Council with a positive recommendation. The rezoning, initiated by the county planning director, changes zoning from single-family residential and agricultural zones to a university district that allows flexible uses. The area affected is bordered by Komohana, Mohouli, Kumukoa, Lanikaula, Kapiolani, Kawilie and Puainako Streets.
Commissioners stalled, but ultimately agreed to give up an 80-foot-wide right of way for a future road that would have connected Komohana and Kumukoa Streets. Commissioner Raylene Moses voted no on the rezoning, saying the county shouldn’t give up the right of way until it sees what accommodations the university is going to make to handle traffic.
University Real Property Director Harry Yada and consultant Roy Takemoto said they wanted to remove the possible roadway in order to create a more cohesive central campus that lent itself to students being able to walk or take shuttle buses to class.
“It will just divide that campus and just destroy all that cohesiveness,” said Takemoto, managing director of the Hilo office of PBR Hawaii & Associates.
Hans Santiago, who said he lives on the top of Mohouli Street, asked the commission to keep the the right of way in the plans, at least until the university came up with an alternative traffic route that would relieve traffic congestion on Mohouli.
“They don’t want to deal with the traffic the university generates,” Santiago said. “I understand you don’t want a major roadway through the university, but you don’t want a major roadway through a neighborhood either.”
The county planning staff believes the proposed connector road is redundant because there is a “robust roadway network” within the immediate area, staff said in written recommendations.
Commissioner Gregory Henkel, however, agreed that “Mohouli is choke cars.”
Yada and Takemoto said the university is in the midst of formulating a strategic plan, and traffic considerations will be taken into account in that process.
But Moses, in voting no, said she thought the right of way should stay in place until a traffic plan is formalized.
“I am in support of changing the zoning,” Moses said, “but I am not in support of removing that right of way. There is nothing that will hold the university to actually do something.”
Other commissioners disagreed.
“I’d like to trust the university to be good neighbors and address these issues if they become problems in the future,” said Commissioner Ronald Gonzales.
Commissioners allowed Commission Chairman Wallace Ishibashi to vote on the matter after he disclosed that he was recently hired by the university as a cultural monitor for the Office of Mauna Kea Management. He said it wouldn’t influence his vote.
The County Council created the university district zoning category in 2007 to allow flexibility in establishing a mix of uses to enhance campus life. The university village concept will allow student housing, commercial uses such as restaurants and markets, medical offices, financial institutions and private research facilities.
In addition to the University Village, where a new apartment complex is currently under construction on 35.4 acres, the rezoning affects the 101-acre university main campus, the University Park of Science & Technology on the upper campus, the Komohana Ag Station, the Hale Kawili Student Housing and 13.4 acres of vacant upper campus lands.
Planning staff said construction work is going on prior to the rezoning under the “public use” clause of current zoning code that allows such work to be done with plan approval.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.