Critics slam KonaHILO -- A second golf course and housing development for the wealthy proposed for the Kona slopes above Kealakekua Bay has conservation and Hawaiian activists up in arms.
Kealakekua Bay marineRunoff: Muddy silt from the Hokuli'a project is killing coral and deteriorating water quality, according to a state aquatic biologist
life and sacred land would
be disturbed, they say
Distrust: The Sierra Club says too many zoning exemptions lead to poorly planned communities
By Frankie Stapleton
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Lyle Anderson, an Arizona developer of some of the top golf courses in the world, wants to build Keopuka Lands, an 18-hole golf course, 125 one- to five-acre house lots and a 100-unit private lodge on 660 acres.
The proposed subdivision would border the similarly upscale, 1,250-acre Hokuli'a development, which Anderson also owns. Hokuli'a, formerly called Oceanside 1250, is the largest development that far South on the Kona Coast.
Critics of the new project say it would threaten South Kona's rural lifestyle and the waters of nearby Kealakekua Bay, which is a marine life sanctuary and has cultural and historical significance.
Kealakekua Bay is the West Hawaii site of the Captain Cook Monument, where British explorer James Cook was killed in 1779. Some also consider Kealakekua a sacred area as it was the ancient home and burial place for multitudes of native Hawaiians.
The controversial development prompted the Sierra Club's state chapter, led by David Kimo Frankel of Volcano, to ask the state Land Use Commission to get involved.
Anderson's company Pacific Star LLC is attempting to portray its proposal as "agricultural" to avoid state Land Use Commission review and obtain quick county approval, Frankel said.
Coastline's 'stunning beauty'The development of Keopuka Lands "jeopardizes the stunning raw beauty of the coastline, the hiking experience, the wilderness qualities of Kealakekua Bay, the Class AA pristine waters and the cultural legacy of the area," Frankel wrote in the Sierra Club's September newsletter.
Dick Frye, Pacific Star vice president, said community response to the Keopuka Lands project "shouldn't be driven by one body," referring to the Sierra Club.
"We want to go to the community at large and get a broad-based response," Frye said, adding he doesn't feel his company has had the opportunity to explain the project to the public.
He said he thought the community would prefer a Special Management Area use permit, which is site specific, to a zoning change that would change the whole area to urban use. Both permitting processes are available through the county.
"Zoning has a lot more flexibility," but can take several years, Frye said, while the Special Management Area use permit represents "less time and less cost to us."
"We have a specific plan and don't need the flexibility of urban zoning," he said. "That's one of the things we need to talk to the community about."
The wedge-shaped Pacific Star property extends from Mamalahoa Highway near the junction at Napoopoo Road to the coast, with a ribbon of state-owned land separating Keopuka Lands from the northern reaches of Kealakekua Bay.
Mostly unimproved lava land, the 660-acre parcel has about 30 acres -- located mauka -- in macadamia nut, avocado, mango and coffee cultivation. Two historic trails intersect the property makai of the farms.
Soil will need to be imported for the golf course and house lots, most of which will be located between the Old Government Road, which is part of the Ala Loa Trail, and the coast. Old Cart Road is the other historic trail traversing the property.
The state Land Use Commission has scheduled an "action meeting" on the Sierra Club's petition for Sept. 29 at the King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona. Frankel said the Land Use Commission's review "gives the state the ability to stop this project, whereas the county at this point is fully supportive of it."
But Hawaii County administrators called the petition of the state Land Use Commission "inappropriate." Both the county and Pacific Star said the proposed development is not within the jurisdiction of the Land Use Commission.
The petition "is at best premature and is asking the commission to consider matters which are not yet before any agency for decision-making," Corporation Counsel Richard Wurdemann said in the county's written response.
"The county's argument is absolutely absurd. The Land Use Commission considers petitions for boundary amendments all the time before any application has been submitted to the county," Frankel said, citing two current cases. "This is simply an argument to let the developer have a free ride. It makes no sense."
David Blane, state Director of Planning, labeled the project "a resort community within the state agriculture district" in his response to the Land Use Commission.
"Taken collectively the proposed project ... is clearly an attempt to circumvent the intent of the law," Blane said.
The deadline for public comment on the Keopuka Lands draft Environmental Impact Statement was recently extended to Oct. 5 following criticism that it was difficult to obtain copies for review.
'Our land is under fire'Keep Kealakekua Wild, a campaign launched by the Sierra Club to focus public attention on the project's Environmental Impact Statement process, has collected 2,000 signatures on a petition and 1,400 postcards objecting to Keopuka Lands.
The club also maintains a Web site promoting its views at www.keep-kealakekua-wild.org and plans two public hikes -- a short one and a longer, more strenuous one -- across Keopuka on Sept. 24.
Jack Kelly, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club, said his group is not against development. "We're for growth in our community but our land is under fire.
"Kona is dead-set against this project," Kelly said recently, mentioning developments in Kohala and Holualoa, "one of the few places in America where the small family farm still exists.
"We want to maintain the flavor and essence of our community," the Kona activist said. "The developer says, 'Hey, look at our track record.' We're looking at your track record and that is why Kona is up in arms."
About 300 Kona residents turned out for an informational meeting held by the developer in July at which William L. Moore, Keopuka Lands project manager, faced vocal opposition to the development of the area surrounding Kealakekua Bay.
State Sen. Andy Levin, D-Kau-Kona-Puna, has called for discussion of who owns and governs the old government highways on the property as well as the cumulative impact on the environment and quality of life in South Kona.
"A gated community for the super-rich (with houses and lots valued at over $1.5 million according to the draft Environmental Impact Statement) is a radical departure from the status quo," Levin said in his written response.
"My constituents have expressed a strong desire to retain the rural lifestyle in South Kona. I question how this project can fit in, and I foresee future social conflicts as being inevitable."
Asked if community opposition would prompt Pacific Star to abandon the project, Frye said "No. We have the right to develop this land.
"Perhaps, if the entire community wanted something else, we'd be open to changing what we've proposed," he said.
Roger Dilts of Captain Cook spent $400 to hire a helicopter to investigate the cause of muddy water that he saw while kayaking Saturday along a 100-foot stretch of coastline north of Kealakekua Bay.
Biologist says runoff
kills coral, harms
By Pat Omandam and Pat Gee
What he saw he called the worst pollution he has seen in the two years he has been regularly kayaking in the area. The runoff, he said, "broke my heart."
Bill Walsh, state aquatic biologist for Kona side of the Big Island, said divers on Tuesday found the coral reef in the bay looked good in shallow waters of 13 feet or less.
But he said there was "very significant" runoff, hundreds of meters wide, on coral in deep water of 25 feet or more. Divers found an inch of mud in many areas, and as much as three inches of mud in a few areas, Walsh said yesterday.
"If you sweep your hand and kind of make the mud that was on them blow off, the coral polyps that were underneath them were all bleached white and apparently dead," he said.
The runoff was caused by heavy rains over the weekend. Dilts said the mud comes from the Hokuli'a development project 1.7 miles north of the bay.
Dilts said the mud was 1-2 inches deep on shore on Saturday, and the water was polluted about 200 yards from the shoreline out to the ocean and extended 10-20 feet deep.
When he went snorkeling, he couldn't see his kayak from an arm's length away underwater.
Dilts said what he saw Sunday from the air confirmed his worst fears -- "large piles of dirt" on the Hokuli'a project, about 300 feet from shoreline, and there was "no containment" over the dirt.
Hawaii County Chief Engineer Robert Yanabu said yesterday after speaking with Hokuli'a project manager Nancy Burns it appears the contractor installed the necessary precautionary measures to control the silt.
Yanabu said the heavy rains exceeded the amount of runoff the controls were designed to handle.
"It appears at this time, they were in compliance," he said.
Yanabu said yesterday he asked the project manager to install additional precautionary measures in a good-faith effort to ease environmental concerns from the community.
He added the problem is not out of control.
"I think they will be better prepared in case there is another heavy rainfall," he said.
Walsh has forwarded video and other information to state Land and Natural Resources director Tim Johns.
The state Health Department and Hawaii County continue to investigate the runoff as well.
Development of a residential project north of the pristine waters of Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island is an example of "bad urban sprawl" that the Sierra Club is trying to halt, said Jeff Mikulina, Hawaii Chapter director.
Sierra Club cites
in poor planning
By Pat Gee
Muddy runoff from the Hokuli'a project's golf course now under construction is polluting the bay and is just another incident of "broken promises" by developers to adhere to strict regulations, he said.
Mikulina commented on the project at a press conference yesterday when he released a national report on what the club sees as examples of positive and negative development. The report named Makawao Town as an example of good growth and Spreckelsville on Maui as irresponsible development.
Mikulina said another proposed luxury subdivision adjacent to Hokuli'a in Keopuka, South Kona, by the same developer also should be stopped. The Sierra Club approves of a state Land Use Commission hearing in the near future to decide whether the developer should be allowed to put the Keopuka Lands project on agricultural land, and if so, whether it should be required to get the land rezoned first.
Officials connected with the development could not be reached for comment yesterday.
County Planning Departments historically have been "too lenient on zoning" and "have had a hard time saying no to developers," so "we have to put more pressure" on the state to make sure community plans are enforced, according to Mikulina.
He said too many zoning exemptions are being given to allow development on prime agricultural lands against the wishes of communities that have drawn up development plans that provide their own support systems, like schools, stores, etc.
New urban developments that don't put in support systems force people to "jump into their cars for everything" as amenities are located far away, thereby contributing to traffic congestion and other urban ills, he said.
He said planning should be put back into the hands of communities instead of developers who don't take into account what amenities will be needed, such as police, fire, water, roads and schools.
The Sierra Club believes it is more cost-effective to build close-knit, self-contained communities with all the services available, Mikulina said. Hilo on the Big Island and Koloa town on Kauai are good examples of such communities, he added.