Sunday, May 9, 2004

Big Island development
stalled by road traffic

Highway congestion in Kona is the main
reason a proposed project is on hold

HILO >> A proposed 83-acre commercial and residential development near the Kona airport is on hold because the main highway through the area is already choked with cars.

"Major highways in Kona are at capacity at this point," Mayor Harry Kim told the Hawaii County Council Wednesday and reversed his administration's favorable stand on the Clifto's Kona LLC project. He called for an indefinite deferral of the vote.

Clifto's was one vote away from final approval of rezoning for the site on Queen Kaahumanu highway at a site called Ooma, 1.5 miles south of the airport entrance.

The project would have 392,000 square feet of office, commercial, and retail space, 240 multi-family homes -- 20 percent of them "affordable" -- and 300 hotel rooms.

A majority of those who addressed the Council Wednesday were against the project, including resident Cory Hardin, who said a public hearing in January resulted in 50 people speaking against the project and none for it.

Jeff Smith, executive director of the 870-acre Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii adjoining the Clifto's site, said he is a member of a silent majority that supports the project.

He agreed that traffic on Queen Kaahumanu is bad. "I hate to go to (Kailua-) Kona now," he said. But the Clifto's development would provide stores and restaurants where a projected 1,000 employees at the energy laboratory could get food instead of driving the highway at lunch time, he said.

Kim said his policy will be "not to support any rezoning along Queen Kaahumanu until we address infrastructure."

Pressed further by the Council, Kim said he would veto the measure if it were passed and will withhold building permits for other projects if traffic gets worse.

But he also said he is working with state Transportation Director Rod Haraga to try to speed up widening of Queen Kaahumanu from two to four lanes.

The $25 million widening of the first half of the 8-mile stretch from Kailua-Kona to the airport is scheduled for completion in 2008, Kim said, but there is no money even to plan the second half.

Clifto's planning consultant Sydney Fuke said the company found the mayor's stance "somewhat disappointing" and called for limiting the deferral to 90 days, which the council agreed to do.

Kim called for "concurrent" planning, meaning the Clifto's development should be timed to be completed when the highway widening is completed, but he couldn't give any assurance when that would be.


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