Council to vote on Big Island land buyout
Hawaii County's buy of 150 coastal acres in Kau could stop plans for homes and a hotel
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » A county council committee is expected to vote next month on whether Hawaii County should try to buy 150 coastal acres fronting Punaluu Black Sand Beach, a move that could disrupt a developer's plans to build 1,000 homes and a 350-room hotel in the area.
The proposed development, which has the backing of Marine explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society, has been the source of heated debate on the Big Island.
Some residents say it will bring badly needed jobs to rural Kau while others fear it will damage a precious environmental resource and taint land treasured by Native Hawaiians. The black sand beach is home to endangered hawksbill turtles and threatened green sea turtles.
A county council finance committee public hearing on the issue drew between 350 and 400 people earlier this month, including 111 who testified.
The county would have to buy the land from SM Investment Partners, which had been expected to sell the parcel to developer SeaMountain Five LLC, which has first refusal rights to the property.
SeaMountain has already planned on incoporating the parcel in its 434-acre residential and hotel development. The company has also proposed to restore a golf course, which has fallen into disrepair, and rebuild infrastructure in the area.
One council member said the council would refuse to approve any further rezoning or permitting in the area if SM Investments refused to sell the coastal parcel to the county.
"If they wish to proceed with the redevelopment, they would never get the rezoning past the council," said Pete Hoffmann, who represents North and South Kohala.
"The council would also indicate to the administration that it wouldn't allow the property to be subdivided."
Hoffman added SM Investment Partners "would be very foolish not to sell" at a fair market value of $6 million.
The finance committee is expected to vote July 9 on the land purchase proposal, which authorizes the county to determine if it should buy the land. All nine members of the council sit on the finance committee, giving the panel's voice the power of the entire council.
Developer representative George Atta, a principal with consulting company Group 70 International Inc., said the county would kill the development if it bought the 150 acres.
"People sometimes don't understand that protecting the coastline is as much a goal of ours as anybody else," he said. "We have a lot of the same goals and values (as opponents of the development). We're not building anything on the shoreline."
At the committee's June 4 public hearing, a majority of those testifying called for the county to step in and purchase the Punaluu beach park and surrounding acres. A minority said the region desperately needed the commercial activity offered by the homes and hotel.
Marie Burns, a Kau native, said she supported protecting the park.
"All my life, I've seen my lands disappear before my eyes," she told the committee.
"If anyone in this room wants to go down there for free without having to say 'how may I serve you?' support this resolution."
Others say there is a way of developing without destroying.
"There's a tug-of-war in Kau," said Naalehu resident Dave Carrol. "It's not conservation versus development. ... Punaluu is ideally situated to grow tourism."