Dozens comment on Kauai 'big boxes'
LIHUE » The public hearing on bill that would essentially end "big box" development on Kauai attracted a standing-room-only crowd yesterday.
More than a hundred people testified, either in writing or in person, on Bill 2203, which would limit retail and wholesale establishments to no more than 75,000 square feet.
Dozens came in purple T-shirts saying, "Pass the Big Box Bill," while opponents wore blue shirts imprinted with "Let Kauai choose."
While the Council says the "Superstore" bill is intended to protect "the rural character and quality of life" on the Garden Isle, the bill's opponents believe its true intention is to prevent Wal-Mart from expanding to offer groceries and other services.
Wal-Mart intends to make its Lihue store, the only one on Kauai, into its first major complex in the state, expanding the current 118,000-square-foot establishment to 185,000 square feet, Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin McCall said yesterday.
Speakers against the bill all mentioned the Wal-Mart expansion as one, if not the only, reason they do not back the big-box ban.
Many testified that Wal-Mart's expansion would help many of Kauai's struggling families, with one speaker coming to tears as she explained how much she saved at Wal-Mart. Others discussed Wal-Mart's positive role in the community, supporting nonprofits and donating tons of goods and services to local charity ball teams and others.
Robert Hamada, a lifelong resident of Kapaa, said he grew up on Kauai well before the establishment of big chain stores, let alone the big boxes.
"Everybody romanticizes the 'mom and pop' stores," he said. "They ran it by themselves and for themselves. They added little to the life of the community."
However, those who support the ban say it is about time the Council stepped up to protect the Garden Isle from being overrun by big-name giants.
"I want my community to feel like a community," said Ann Panoho. "I don't want a Wal-Mart on every corner."
The bill will be referred to the Council's Planning Committee for further review.