East Hawaii News

Volcano Zoning Change Request Moves to Council With Favorable Recommendation

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The Hawaiʻi County Council Planning Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 18, forwarded to the full council a zoning change request for a property on the north side of Old Volcano Road just west of the intersection with Wright Road in Volcano Village.

But not without a discussion about land use versus property use first.

Raja Daggula and his wife, Shalini Kapoor, want to build a hosted three-unit short-term vacation rental project with a six-stall parking area on a piece of property within the Volcano Community Village Center. He’s requesting a change in zoning for the property from single-family residential to village commercial. Several commercial businesses are in operation just west of the site, including Kīlauea Lodge and Restaurant, Kīlauea General Store, Lava RocknCafe and Thai Thai Bistro, as well as a laundromat and True Value Hardware Store.

The Windward Planning Commission during a Dec. 2, 2021, meeting forwarded the request to the Planning Committee with a favorable recommendation for the zoning change.

However, members of the Volcano Community Association and the Volcano Village expressed concerns about the project during the planning commission’s meeting in December. Testifiers raised questions about potential noise levels and impact to a forest canopy and any endangered or threatened animals and plants on the property.

Daryn Arai and Sidney Fuke, planning consultants and agents for Daggula and his wife, told committee members Tuesday that the testifiers also put an excessive amount of focus on the short-term vacation rental component of the project, saying the intended purpose of the property wouldn’t benefit the community. And according to the planning consultants and Daggula, even when suggestions were made to include something more in the project, such as a coffee shop or bookstore, pushback continued because of the short-term vacation rental plan.

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Daggula also attempted to appease all of the community’s concerns several times before submitting the plan that was before the committee on Tuesday.

“We changed it, I think, three or four times and then it came to a plan where we felt that it will actually gel well with the community,” Daggula said via Zoom during Tuesday’s meeting. “If you look at the plans, the footprint was really quite small. You also have a lot of things that are actually in the plan for mitigation and other things as well.”

Committee members had several questions, including about the difference between hosted and unhosted vacation rentals and how the difference between the two played into the zoning change request, and some wanted to slow down the process.

Council member Heather Kimball appreciated the fact that the committee wasn’t approving the property’s proposed use, just the rezoning request. She asked if Daggula was under any time constraints for getting the project underway.

“Once you do it, you can’t really go back,” she said about the zoning change. “So, if there’s not time pressure, my inclination is to take another deep, hard look at this and spend more time on it.”

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Daggula said he and his wife are under some time pressures to get started, but they are willing to delay their plans if necessary.

“We want to do it the right way,” he said, adding if the Council feels that they need more time to look at it, “we’ll do it.” Daggula said he and his wife want to do what’s right for the Council and the community.

Council Chairwoman Maile David agreed with Kimball that it could be a good idea to spend some additional time on the request. She also would like the opportunity to discuss the issue with the Volcano Village community.

“It is their community and I’d like to see the collaboration with potential new development in that area,” David said.

Committee Chairwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz acknowledged that Daggula is more than willing to collaborate with the community, but it doesn’t seem that the community wants to have anymore dialogue about the plans.

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Meeting minutes from the Windward Planning Commission’s meeting and comments from the planning consultants during Tuesday’s meeting indicate that attempts to have additional dialogue following a meeting with the Volcano Community Association in September were met with silence.

“I just wanted to note, I reviewed the transcripts as well,” Kierkiewicz said. “It was noted that the association did not want to move forward with anymore discussions with the applicant because the intention was to move forward with the vacation rental.”

She said while there is a willingness by Daggula to collaborate with the community, it seems that the community does not have the same motivation.

“So, I know you are the type to get everybody together to talk story and find a way forward, and so I’m just making the request that maybe you can help broker some of that dialogue,” Kierkiewicz told David.

Zendo Kern, director of the county Planning Department, said there wasn’t a lot of opposition from the community association to rezoning the property to commercial, just to the planned use of the property.

“It was really the short-term vacation rental component that people were having issues,” he said. “They were saying if it was like a cafe or something, that would be wonderful, but not a short-term vacation rental.”

Kern reminded committee members that the County Council had lengthy deliberations about short-term vacation rentals and passed a bill that allows for short-term vacation rentals as long as they comply with certain conditions. Daggula’s request follows all those conditions.

“The request is consistent with the General Plan. The request is consistent with Puna Community Development Plan. The request is consistent with the Volcano plan,” Kern said. “And all those did have community input.”

He wasn’t advising committee members not to have further conversation with the community, but Tuesday’s conversation infringed on spot-type zoning decisions based on this request and not land use policy. Kern also reminded council members that Kilauea Lodge was given approval for basically the same type of rezoning request in a location adjacent to the property in question now.

In the end, despite the concerns raised by community members and some council members wanting additional time to foster more dialogue with the community, most agreed that the request before the committee was not about the proposed use of the property, but in the use of the land in question.

Kern and the planning consultants also made it clear that the zoning change request checked all of the county’s boxes.

The committee voted 8-1, with David dissenting, to move the request forward with a favorable recommendation.

“Very carefully listening to the conversation, with the conditions set in place, this falls in line with what we are talking about as a county overall,” said council member Tim Richards before admitting that not everybody is going to be happy with the decision.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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