Council moves to block Kau hotel project
Authorizing Mayor Kim to buy the land could bring a smaller project
STORY SUMMARY »
KAILUA-KONA » The Hawaii County Council approved a measure yesterday authorizing Mayor Harry Kim to negotiate the purchase of 150 acres of coastal land at the Punaluu black-sand beach 56 miles south of Hilo.
A potential effect would be to kill a 350-room, 1,050-residential-unit resort on 430 acres proposed by developer Sea Mountain Five LLC.
But practically, the measure passed by a 5-4 vote could force Sea Mountain to downsize its proposal to make it acceptable to Kim's administration, Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said.
Kim has said that he would prefer not to see a resort at the site, but it is not clear whether his administration would completely block it.
The council measure "authorized" Kim's administration to buy 150 acres at the beach and 2,000 feet inland, but it does not give the administration power to force a sale. Pat Blew of Sea Mountain said his company has a contract to buy the land and has no intention of selling it.
A sizable part of the Kau community wants some kind of development, for the jobs it would create and for the estimated $1 million per year in public benefits it would create.
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KAILUA-KONA » The Hawaii County Council, in a 5-4 vote yesterday, approved seeking the purchase of 150 acres at the Punaluu black-sand beach on the Big Island, casting a cloud over a proposal to build a 350-room resort and 1,050 housing units.
The council passed a resolution "authorizing" the administration of Mayor Harry Kim to negotiate the purchase of the shoreline and land extending back 2,000 feet from the beach.
The resolution does not call for legal condemnation of the land, and Sea Mountain Five LLC managing partner Pat Blew said his company is not willing to give up the land voluntarily.
Both the Council and Kim are now on record that the resort as proposed is not acceptable. Referring to Punaluu, Kim previously said he would like to see one beach on the island remain free of resorts.
Sea Mountain needs various county approvals, especially a shoreline management area permit.
The company does not own the 430-acre tract in question. Sea Mountain has an agreement to buy it from SM Investment Partners only after the company obtains the shoreline permit.
With neither Sea Mountain nor SM Investment willing to sell, the actual effect of yesterday's resolution could be to force negotiation of a smaller development. Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said that is what she hopes will happen.
A county-purchased, $80,000 survey of 500 residents of the Kau district surrounding Punaluu found that a majority of residents favored some kind of development, but they considered Sea Mountain's proposal too big.
Blew said he believes the community objection is more directed at the number of housing units rather than the number of hotel rooms. "I think the sentiment is against the residential, not the resort," he said.
Because of the remoteness of the Kau district, and lack of commercial activity there, there are few jobs, and most residents have to make long drives to Hilo or Kona for work.
"Without the resort there are no jobs," Blew said.
Gauging the public feeling has been difficult because of the polarization of some Kau residents into two camps, Kau Preservation, against the resort, and O Kau Kakou (We Are Kau), in favor of some form of development.
The survey, conducted by James Kent Associates, found that there is a large middle ground where people want economic development, feel that the current proposal is too large and want protection for natural resources, especially endangered turtles that nest on the beach.
With the new Council resolution thrown into that mix, Blew was still hopeful a resort will be built. "I think it can (happen)," he said.