East Hawaii News

Board Action Paving Way for Puna Park Expansion

January 29, 2014, 2:05 PM HST
* Updated January 30, 3:32 PM
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Action last week by a state board could pave the way for a 26-acre expansion of recreational facilities in lower Puna.

Since 2008, the Department of Land and Natural Board has been trying to resolve an outstanding violation of rules relating to actions taken in areas designated for conservation by the state Land Use Commission.

Merril and Ida Smith own 36 acres along the shoreline at Pohoiki, adjacent to the Isaac Hale Beach Park. On the property is an old coffee mill that had been converted into a home.

Nearly six years ago, the DLNR’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands notified the couple that since the property lies in a Conservation District, the conversion required a permit.

At that time, Hilo businessman Ken Fujiyama, who described himself as a friend of the elderly couple, informed the state that he would be assisting them in obtaining the necessary approvals and would provide the OCCL with plans for the house.

However, the case apparently was placed on hold until July of last year when Fujiyama again contacted the state office about resolving the permit issue.

A letter from Fujiyama said the Smiths were willing to pay a fine of up to $15,000 for the house conversion and for the size of the house, which is bigger than the maximum of 5,000 square feet allowed for single-family residences in the Conservation District.

His letter noted that the county was interested in purchasing 26 acres of the Smiths’ 36-acre lot for expansion of the Isaac Hale Beach Park.

However, the acquisition would require subdivision of the bigger lot which was apparently not possible until the conservation violation was resolved.

Fujiyama outlined a plan in which the Smiths would remodel the home to reduce its livable space to less than 5,000 square feet.

According to the letter, they also agreed to move out of the home once the purchase of the land by the county is completed.

Last week, the Board of Land and Natural Resources voted to allow the Smiths three months to submit an application for an after-the-fact conservation district use permit for the house, and gave them a year to pay a fine of $14,000 for the ongoing violation and another $1,000 for administrative costs.

The 26-acre Pohoiki parcel was the top priority for acquisition in the 2010 report by the Hawaii County Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission.

The report said some aspects of its significance include an historic canoe-landing site, preservation of cultural and burial sites and significant stands of milo and kamani trees.

Also listed was a historic coffee processing plant, although it is not clear whether that is the same structure the Smiths converted to a home years earlier.

Jason Armstrong, spokesman for the county Department of Parks and Recreation, said the acquisition of the parcel remains a high priority for the county and for Mayor Billy Kenoi.

Kenoi was born in Kalapana and has been known to surf the breaks around Pohoiki.

Because of the uncertainties regarding the resolution of the conservation violations, the acquisition of the property as well as funding issues, Armstrong said it was too soon to discuss how the property might be utilized as an addition to Isaac Hale Beach Park.

The park itself was the subject of a major renovation five years ago.

If negotiations for the parcel are successful, the Pohoiki land would be purchased with the county’s public access, open space, and natural resources preservation fund, which is replenished annually with 2% of the county’s general fund tax revenues.

The last property purchased with the fund was 217 acres of Kona coastline in `O`oma.

The County Council recently authorized negotiations for another parcel consisting of 322 acres in Kapoho.

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