Big Island Polls

Big Island Now poll No. 55: What is the most important trait of a responsible developer?

Listen to this Article
5 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

A proposed $350 million residential and commercial community development next to a famous and sacred black sand beach in one of the most rural and environmentally pristine areas on the Big Island has caused a collision of culture and capitalism, widening the divide between deep tradition and so-called progress.

The controversy surrounding the Punalu‘u Village project and pushback from the Ka‘ū community, elsewhere in Hawai‘i and even on the mainland have been swift. Intense at times.

Hawai‘i County Windward Planning Commission Chairman Dennis Lin, back center, listens to public testimony May 6 in council chambers at the Hawai‘i County Building in Hilo during a special meeting of the commission. (File photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

It’s also just one recent example of Hawai‘i residents, including Native Hawaiians, as well as environmental organizations, homeowners associations and others clashing with developers and real estate investors.

In the Punalu‘u project, the developer says she wants to build 225 residential and short-stay units, a village and wellness center, rehabilitate an existing golf course and tennis facilities, as well as extensive infrastructure work to bring jobs to the area and make improvements to attract tourists and others, growing the economy.

The development would be constructed on the site of the former Sea Mountain at Punalu‘u resort near Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach Park. Black Sand Beach LLC, the developer, owns the 147 acres on which the new community would sit.

The community, however, says the development would threaten the area’s environment, including loss of the pristine Punalu’u coastline and further straining the threatened nēnē (Hawaiian goose) that hang out on the golf course as well as endangered green sea turtles and critically endangered hawksbill turtles that nest at Punalu‘u.


It would also desecrate cultural sites and change the way of life in the rural village forever while wiping away historical and generational knowledge.

There are other concerns about the cost of living increasing, outside influence in the community, threat of wildfire because of the state of the former resort buildings and larger numbers of people in the area that would impact the already aging and suffering infrastructure, among others.

Derelict building within the former Sea Mountain at Punalu‘u resort area. (File photo courtesy of Christine Inserra)

Both sides have dug in, especially the community.

“When it comes to Ka‘ū, we are fierce,” said Donna Pabre of Ocean View during testimony at the May 6 meeting of the Hawai’i County Windward Planning Commission. “We will fight you every legal way we can. We will make this another Mauna Kea. I promise you.”

A petition against the development had more than 18,000 signatures by mid-morning Sunday.


After two daylong meetings and hours of testimony from hundreds of people, the commission earlier this month granted standing for two petitions in a contested case involving the proposed development’s special management area use permit, necessary to move forward with the project.

What the future will hold for the development now will be determined by that contested case hearing.

Another testifier during the May 6 commission meeting said history has shown that these types of developments will hike the cost of living and force the community out, including Native Hawaiians, and only further exploit resources, people, culture and the area’s way of life.

It’s already been happening on O‘ahu, Lānaʻi and Maui. This isn’t just a Ka’u issue, she said, it’s an islandwide red flag.

The Punaluʻu controversy has even made it into national headlines. USA Today published a story about it 3 weeks ago.


There are other examples throughout the state where communities say developers have gone wrong or acted badly.

A yearslong ‘nightmare’ fight against black slime continues for Kauaʻi homeowners at the 151-home Ho‘oluana at Kohea Lea development in Hanamāʻulu.

Dozens of households have reported the persistent black slime throughout the past 6 years on interior plumbing fixtures. The gunk rapidly clots to shower heads, faucets and toilet bowls as well.

The developer rebuilding the Coco Palms Resort on Kaua’i, which was destroyed in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki, is experiencing pushback because of unsubtantiated reports of disturbing Native Hawaiian burials, wastewater spills and allegations of unpermitted clearing being investigated by the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The developer and property owners at Marconi Point in Kahuku, a controversial luxury development on Oʻahu’s North Shore, face more than an unprecedented $3 million in state fines after being accused of killing protected native wildlife.

The developer and property owners at Marconi Point in Kahuku, a controversial luxury development on Oʻahu, face unprecedented state fines after being accused of killing protected native wildlife, including a nesting female Laysan albatross, known as Ho‘okipa. (File image)

A court battle continues in another Big Island developer fiasco that involves a $500,000 house being built on the wrong property in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

The Hawaiʻi County Council in March 2023, amid an expanding corruption scandal involving a former county housing specialist and thee alleged co-conspirators, called for an audit of affordable housing credits that never resulted in new units.

Even survivors of the Maui wildfires last August, including the one that destroyed historic Lahaina and killed more than 100 people, were not spared from development controversy. Some said they were getting calls from real estate investors wanting to buy what remained of their homes and property.

“This is disgusting,” Maui resident Tiare Lawrence told MSNBC about a week after the blaze. “Lahaina is not for sale.”

Many would likely agree that development and stewardship of land and infrastructure are necessary components for a community’s future economic success, but not at the expense of that community, its heritage and culture or people.

Not all developments and developers are bad, either. But what does it take to be a good developer? What do you think?

Press Here to Take the Poll

Leave a comment here or on social media to tell us why you voted the way you did, especially if it was non of the above.

The monthly poll ends at midnight June 28. Poll results will be published June 30.

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments