Hawaiʻi County Council denies Aloha Kia’s zoning change to relocate across Ice Ponds in Keaukaha

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A local car dealership will not be able to relocate to a property across the street from Reed’s Bay Ice Ponds in Keaukaha after the Hawai‘i County Council unanimously voted last week against a zoning change.

Currently zoned as Resort, Bill 87 would have rezoned 1.795 acres of land at 92 Kalaniana‘ole St. to Industrial Limited.

But without the zoning change, Aloha Kia, currently located at 226 Kanoelehua Ave., can’t relocate there, ending its bid to purchase the property.

On Wednesday, the Hilo County Council chambers was filled with families who showed up to oppose the bill, testifying it would shutter local businesses serving the community for more than 20 years.

The 6,400-square-foot commercial building, which currently houses Millie’s Deli and Snack Shop, New Saigon Restaurant and a medical supply store, would’ve become Aloha Kia’s new showroom, sales office and parts department.

“When I look at the rezoning, you’re asking us to remove a multi-generational ‘ohana established in our community and replace them with a car dealership,” one testifier said. “The dealership does not support the community but outside investments.”


Council member Sue Lee Loy, who represents Keaukaha, said she heard “loud and clear” during testimony was that Aloha Kia representatives didn’t ask or talk to them about rezoning.

Keaukaha is home to native Hawaiian families living on Hawaiian Home Lands, which was founded in 1924. Also in the Hilo community is the Kanoelehua Industrial Area, founded in 1968.

Keaukaha is also home to the port, Hilo International Airport, the county wastewater treatment plant and the rubbish dump.

“Once again, the Keaukaha community is being asked to hapai [carry] the kuleana [responsibility] and resources that accommodate the entire moku [island],” the testifier said. “There are decisions being made for our community and what our community is going to look like, but our community has not had any role in the discussion, in dreaming, designing what Keaukaha feels and looks like to us.”

Russ Wong, Regional Vice President of Aloha Kia, and the company’s consultant John Pipan, planning administrator for Land Planning Hawai‘i, appeared before the council. Pipan said they offered extended leases to the tenants through the end of November 2025.


“We feel this is a fair compromise that would allow them the opportunity to find alternatives through this transition period,” Pipan said. “Should this potential purchase fail, there’s nothing to prevent the land owner from selling to another person.”

Pipan reiterated to the council that killing Bill 87 didn’t ensure Millie’s Deli and Snack Shop remains. He added: “I just want to make sure we’re not disadvantaging a business by wanting to support another business.”

With Reed’s Bay Ice Ponds across the street, the plan recognizes it as a natural beauty site, which would be protected under the proposed action.

“Car dealerships are very hard to site,” Pipan said. “There is public benefit to this project.

He cited the county would receive more property taxes generated by the increased property value as a car dealership.


Aloha Kia has been doing business in Hilo for more than 20 years. Wong said the dealership’s initial lease expired earlier this year. About five years ago, knowing the lease was expiring, the company started looking for a suitable alternative.

Pipan said there are virtually no suitable sites for Aloha Kia to relocate from their lease hold to a fee-simple property.

“We got a three-year extension and we’re hoping to accomplish this objective so we can move in three years to the new location,” Wong said. “I truly have empathy for the existing tenants because that’s what we’ve been going through for the past four or five years, trying to figure out what we’re going to do.”

Council member Jenn Kagiwada supported the residents and said the biggest issue for her was the community wasn’t included in these rezoning discussions, creating a horrible position.

“They’ve spent all this time and money and the community really doesn’t want it,” Kagiwada said. “And they would’ve known this if we had a community action group that could give input.”

While the rezoning seems to make sense on paper, Kagiwada said it doesn’t make sense in person as it is the entrance to a special place.

Council member Ashley Kierkiewicz also opposed the bill saying while she appreciated Aloha Kia’s efforts going through the application process, this location was not it.

Kierkiewicz shared how she takes her children to the Ice Ponds and how they patronize the businesses that would lose their leases.

“It goes beyond potentially displacing local establishments, and these establishments are important because they contribute to the character that makes Keaukaha in the Hilo community so special,” she said. “I want to preserve some of that.”

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