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County Council Moves Forward With Waikōloa Development Project

By Nathan Christophel
April 7, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated April 6, 10:37 PM
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A proposed development near the Waikōloa resort area that would include timeshares, affordable workforce housing and other facilities is moving forward after the Hawaiʻi County Council on Wednesday, April 6, approved the second and final readings of two bills in regard to rezoning requests from the developer.

The Kumu Hou project, being developed by Waikōloa Land Company, would encompass 900 timeshare units, 264 multi-family residential units and up to 25 single-family residential lots, including at least 140 units for affordable workforce housing on property located between the 75- and 76-mile markers on the makai side of Queen Kaʻahumanu Highway.

The development also would include private community centers, a convenience retail center, golf support facilities, an operations facility, public parks and recreational amenities and associated infrastructure.

Councilman Holeka Inaba speaks Wednesday during discussion about Bill 115. (Screenshot from video)

Council members approved the final readings of Bill 112 and draft 3 of Bill 115, which would rezone the property to be used for the development. Before its final approval, the council also approved several amendments to Bill 115 that cleared up several concerns from the council about the project and some of the measure’s language.

Those amendments, sticking points for several council members during their consideration of the first reading of Bill 115, surrounded how some proceeds from the project that would go to the Waikōloa Foundation to benefit specific causes it finds of critical importance would be identified and reported to the council, offsetting the use of potable water sources in the area of the proposed project and the number of affordable housing units to which the developer would commit.

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Some council members on Wednesday maintained their concerns about several of the issues the amendments address, but for the most part, revisions to the proposed changes — and a commitment from the Waikōloa Foundation made in a resolution passed by its board — allowed the majority of them to be approved and included in the newest version of Bill 115.

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Cary Boeddeker, president of the Waikōloa Foundation, thought it was important, after hearing all of the council’s concerns, to memorialize all of the comments made by council members and the community with a resolution by the foundation. She told the council on Wednesday that she stands for what the foundation’s mission is and it’s important for her to maintain the integrity of that mission.

“Which is to steward the precious cultural and environmental attributes that make Hawaiʻi unique,” said Boeddeker. “The foundation preserves the archaeological and ecological resources of the past while supporting the advancement and education that will benefit both the ʻaina and ʻohana of this community for generations to come.”

One of the amendments to Bill 115 approved Wednesday specifically addressed how the foundation would be kept accountable for commitments it is making as part of the project and how the project’s progress would be reported to the county, ensuring there is no perception of a “pay to play” situation.

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A representative for the developer and county Planning Director Zedo Kern told council members that the amendment would require the foundation to make an annual report to the planning director. That report would be a public document, meaning everyone, including the council, would be able to see what is happening with the project, ensuring transparency.

And no matter what, the foundation will have to report what it is doing in connection to the development.

A major sticking point for the council again during Wednesday’s meeting, however, was an amendment seeking an additional 250 affordable workforce housing units to be included in the project. The developer already committed to 140 affordable housing units, that would be constructed prior to the construction of any timeshare units, per requirements of the county’s affordable housing code.

The amendment also sought to revise language so all 140 of the affordable housing units already included in the project would be completed prior to the first timeshare being occupied.

“Which is what the applicant has represented in previous meetings,” said Councilman Holeka Inaba, who introduced the amendment.

Councilman Tim Richards speaks Wednesday during discussion about Bill 115. (Screenshot from video)

In addition, Inaba’s proposed amendment sought to clarify that all of the affordable housing units would remain affordable for a period of 65 years regardless of the timeline for occupancy of the first unit.

The developer already pledged to build the affordable housing units prior to any timeshare units and already fulfilled the obligation for affordable housing laid out in county code. It also committed to constructing as much affordable housing as possible. A representative for the developer told the Council that it has put its best foot forward throughout the entire process, but a condition of an additional 250 affordable housing units, which it cannot afford, is a bridge too far to cross.

A majority of the council agreed.

“We’re not supposed to move the goalposts because we can,” said Councilman Tim Richards. “That’s not how this works.”

Inaba’s proposed amendment failed, but in a related issue, another amendment to Bill 115 proposed by Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz sought to increase the number of affordable housing units to be included in the project to 200, a move that the developer is on board with as long as it can get a necessary exemption from requirements in the county affordable housing code and there are no cultural issues with the site where it proposes to construct the additional units.

The council approved that amendment.

Before approving the second reading of Bill 115, the majority of council members expressed their thanks to the developer and the foundation for all of the work they have done with the project and how they have taken into account the needs and concerns of the communities involved.

“I think it’s going to work out to be a good project,” said Councilman Matt Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder.

“We saw a lot of collaboration. We saw a lot of discussion. We saw a lot of back and forth,” said Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, adding the weeks of working through the project with the developer and the community allowed the Council to learn how it can do better. “Sitting up here for as many years as I have, this definitely was a growth for me, I know personally. So thank you so much. It really does feel good to support a project like this.”

Inaba agreed that the process has been a learning experience, but stated for the record that community members, who reached out via social media and are not tied to small businesses in Waikōloa or are anyone who stands to benefit from the project financially, have not been in support.

He also still has concerns about some aspects of the development, including issues surrounding water and a necessity for additional affordable housing, and is disappointed that he doesn’t see any community representation on the Waikōloa Foundation’s governing board.

He does not consider a development of this type responsible or for a new reason.

“It is exactly in line with what has been there for the last 40 years,” Inaba said.

Richards has always been a proponent of diversifying the island’s economy but acknowledged that it can’t be done overnight. To him, the Kumu Hou project is ushering in a kind of new era on how the county works on these types of projects. He said while the project might not be perfect, the point is the Council is doing something different.

“And like anything, it’s gonna be a middle ground where we can actually start moving the needle forward,” Richards said.

Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, right, speaks Wednesday during discussion about Bill 115 as Councilwoman Heather Kimball listens. (Screenshot from video)

“Some community members are still grasping there’s a development of this size happening,” Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder said.

Addressing the developer, the foundation and their representatives, he added: “I want to express that you folks have made a commitment today for funding for infrastructure for Native Hawaiians in the South Kohala District. To me, that is huge and that really, really, I think, should be impressed upon the community, what commitment you’ve made to our Native Hawaiian community.”

Council Chairwoman Maile David, before the vote on Bill 115, while praising the developer and foundation for all the work they have done and what they have included in the project, questioned whether the county needed another timeshare development when it desperately needs more affordable housing.

“I just want to express my position that all the good things that you folks are doing, and I praise you folks for that, the thing that stands out in my mind over the next 20 years, 900 timeshare units, and on (the west side) of the island, will just impact so much of our county facilities and it already has,” said David.

Kierkiewicz agreed with Richards and other council members.

“This is not the perfect project,” she said before the council’s vote on Bill 112, the companion measure to Bill 115. “I think we want to see some things different, but it’s certainly making good progress.”

The developer and foundation expressed their thanks for the council moving forward on the project in statements after Wednesday’s meeting.

“We’re thrilled to advance plans for Kumu Hou at Waikōloa, bringing a much-needed economic boost to Hawaiʻi Island, an influx of affordable homes for kamaʻāina and an investment in the future of our community in perpetuity through the Waikōloa Foundation,” said Scott Head, vice president of resort operations at Waikōloa Land Company. “We’re thankful for the County Council, Leeward Planning Commission and the community’s diligent review, collaboration and faith in us to continue stewarding Waikōloa, continuing the work the Waikōloa Land Company has led for more than 40 years.”

Boeddeker said in a statement that the council’s decision to move ahead with the project will allow the foundation to increase the positive impact it can have on the lives of the entire Big Island community.

“The endowment created by Kumu Hou will ensure we continue supporting and uplift​ing local residents, families and our keiki through meaningful community initiatives that address their unique needs,” she said. “I’m deeply honored to perpetuate our family’s legacy ​of stewardship at Waikōloa through the foundation’s work for the people ​and future of Hawai‘i Island.”

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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