‘Quite a Jewel:ʻ County Offered Chance to Buy Keauhou Bay Property in Kona
September 26, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
Fifteen years ago, Ed and Rhonnie Rapoza could have built two beach homes on waterfront property they owned off Ali‘i Drive in downtown Kailua-Kona. But the owners of Island Land Co. thought the prime real estate should be sold to a particular buyer: the County of Hawaiʻi
The couple is reminded of that good choice every time they see people enjoying the park and sunset views at Honl’s Beach.
Now, the Rapozas are selling another piece of prime property in Kona that they hope will become a popular public space for the community. They are offering to sell 26,390 square feet of waterfront space in Keauhou Bay, complete with a certified boat ramp, to Hawai’i County.
The land is actually two parcels. It sits on the north side of the bay, across from the current boat ramp, and next to the small park and bathroom facilities owned by Kamehameha Schools.
The vacant land has a seawall, which some people now use to fish from. The boat ramp has not been used for years.
The Rapozas own about half of the acreage and their business partners own the other half. When their partners notified the Rapozas they wanted to sell their portion, they all agreed that both lots should be sold together. Their first option is to keep it open space and not sell it to someone who wants to develop the land.
“I’ve been an advocate for community and open space for years,” said Ed Rapoza, a 1977 graduate of Konawaena High School. “And we have very little of it in Kona.”
The asking price has yet to be determined, but the County is interested.
Last week, the Hawai‘i County Council’s Finance Committee unanimously recommended that the Council authorize the County to move forward on the purchase. If the full Council approves the measure in October, the County of Hawai‘i and the Roth Administration could begin negotiations to purchase the property.
In a draft county resolution, it said the site has the potential for high public recreational use. With the seawall and ramp, it could “provide easy access to old and young for swimming, fishing, kayaking, boogie boarding and a host of water activities.”
The possible deal has been in the works since 2020, when the Rapozas first approached the county about the property. In 2021, the property was listed on the county’s Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission list of potential land purchases. That commission is responsible for the acquisition, management and disposition of real property for the county.
The parcels already have water and sewer hookups, and an easement that connects to King Kamehameha III Road, which leads to the bay.
“It’s quite a jewel,” Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz said about the property.
Other councilors agreed, adding the land would be of tremendous value to the public.
Kona Councilmember Rebecca Villegas, who brought the purchase proposal forward, thanked the Rapozas for their continued partnerships with the County.
The Rapozas have sold other land to the county — or represented clients who have sold land to the county — for public use or preservation. This includes property that became the parking lot at White Sands Beach mauka of Aliʻi Drive.
“This is our way of giving back to the community we grew up in, we live in, and we raised our family in,” said Ed Rapoza, principal broker.
Villegas said the Rapozas’ latest offer would provide an unmatched opportunity to “open up the space for the people to enjoy. … I believe, this is the last open piece of property on Keauhou Bay.”
The County’s purchase of the property would also make them a stakeholder in an area that could be changing in the coming years.
The bay is surrounded by private property owners, with the exception of the state-owned public boat ramp. Kamehameha Schools, the state’s largest private landowner, is a significant property owner in the area.
Kamehameha School is planning to renovate nearly 30 acres around Keauhou Bay into commercial and cultural attractions. The proposal calls for reconfiguring traffic flow and creating a heritage management corridor for a historical site.
The site would highlight the birth location of Kauikeaouli, who would go on to become Kamehameha III. It also would relocate commercial activities next to the King’s birth site to honor the historical area and to create a link to other cultural sites in the region through a heritage management corridor.
The plan also calls for building a boutique 150-unit bungalow-style resort. Kamehameha Schools is seeking permits on the project and public meetings on the proposal were held earlier this year.
“This is such a great piece of property to purchase because it encompasses the whole bay, where the historic monuments are,” Councilmember Maile David said.
If the County Council authorizes the County to enter into negotiations, the first step of that process would be to get an appraisal of the land.
Ed Rapoza said he has an idea of what the asking price could be, but didn’t want to share it with Big Island Now at this early part of the process.
The parcel has a state approved boat ramp, and he said he didn’t know what value that would add to the appraisal.
Money won’t be the only consideration when it comes to selling it to the County, said Ed Rapoza, a founding board member of Innovations Charter School.
One of his company’s missions is to provide for kids on the island and undertake projects that affect them positively. And a public space on the bay certainly fits into that mission.
Money for the purchase would come from the PONC (Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission) fund, which is generated from 2% of collected property tax revenues.
Kaleiolani Haanio Pascuita, whose family traces to one of the original Hawaiian settlers on the bay, said she supported the county purchasing the land.
“With all but one other oceanfront parcel developed, I do not see an opportunity like this coming up again,” she wrote in testimony.
Ed Rapoza said if the county decides not to purchase it, he has other plans for the land. But he thinks it would be a nice addition to lands he’s helped get into public hands, something he’s been proud of over the years.
He said: “A legacy like that would frankly be an accomplishment.”