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Developer of Proposed Ali‘i Drive Subdivision Asked to do More Diligence Before Commission Can Sign off

By Tom Hasslinger
July 21, 2022, 6:11 PM HST
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A developer looking to build a subdivision near Ali‘i Drive has more work to do before a county planning commission would be willing to sign off on the development.

The Leeward Planning Commission deferred on Thursday, July 21, voting on Hawai‘i One Investors LLC’s proposal until the developer can update the property’s cultural impact assessment to ensure the land’s history isn’t destroyed and neighbors and decedents of the area are satisfied on that front.

The commission also asked the developer to look into seeing what affordable housing it can offer within the subdivision that go above and beyond county requirements for that type of housing, so median-income families could actually afford homes there. Another request was for the developer to explore adding a tsunami evacuation route onto the plan. The latter two requests were simple asks, and not tied to the motion for deferment, which was predicated on updated cultural impact assessment.

It’s “today’s eyes were seeing this,” Chairman Mike Vitousek said pf the long-discussed project. “What can we do?”

“Today’s eyes was in reference to the developer’s request for an extension. Hawai‘i One is asking for a five-year extension to their special management area ordinance as well as a request to rezone 11 acres of land to accommodate the project off of Ali‘i Drive in Keauhou, across from Kahalu‘u, on a property that has been in the planning stages for years and met regulatory conditions along the way.

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The property is located at the south end of Naniloa Street, adjacent to the White Sands Beach Estates and Keauhou View Estates subdivisions. It calls for a 62-lot subdivision connected to sewer with an ingress road connecting to Ali‘i Drive as well as a 3-acre public park near La‘aloa. The work will be done over at least two phases.

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California-based Hawai‘i One Investors acquired the land in 2013, four years after the SMA was originally approved. While the developer met various contingencies tied to the SMA, including a variety of county permits, it expired in 2019 before development could take place.

That prompted Hawai‘i One to seek an extension.

In April, the planning commission ordered the developers to go back to the Cultural Resource Commission to ensure there weren’t any concerns from that body pertaining to plans for the subdivision before the project can move forward.

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The developers did, and offered on Thursday to form a cultural resource task force with descendants of the land to help them with planning as the project moves forward. But testimony from neighbors and people with ties to the land has been against the project, and some of the 20 or so people who spoke at Thursday’s meeting said they were never contacted by the developers.

“I’m fully against this development for so many reasons,” Heidi White, a realtor who lives in the area, said.

But neighbors also expressed concerns with traffic on Ali’i Drive, especially should evacuation be needed during a fire or tsunami, as well as their mistrust for developments in general after news of a former county Office of Housing Community Development came to light recently. That ex-employee pleaded guilty to fraud on Monday for taking nearly $2 in bribes tied to county affordable housing credits.

“I’ve seen the skepticism that was expressed,” Vitousek said. “I understand those concerns, definitely.”

A team of consultants representing the project said the developer will be accommodating to the extra requests and scrutiny, and wants to work with the county. The developer lives off island and couldn’t Zoom into the meeting as a new rule prohibits commissioners or applicants from doing so.

They’ve done all the required work thus far, the development team said. They just missed a deadline when things were tight.

“Has the project addressed the proposed regulatory boxes?” Daryn Arai, a consultant for Hawai‘i One, said. “We believe it does.”

After the applicant’s SMA expired, lenders pulled their financial support, the development team said. That “took the wind out of their sales,” they said at an earlier meeting, which was why there was a couple-of-years lapse between the expiration in 2019 and the extension request.

The project met a number of conditions before the expiration, including archeological and burial council approval, a Planned Unit Development Plan, and it received environmental impact statement results that found no significant impact in areas that were required to have them performed.

Houses would be singe-family units, one to two stories tall. The last market analysis pegged home averaging $750,000 in cost, although the market has changed since that was performed a few years ago.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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