TOM FINNEGAN / TFINNEGAN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Some Kauai residents have been protesting the destruction of a number of old monkeypod trees along Koloa Road.
Monkeypod removal decried
The move is to make way for a commercial project on Kauai
KOLOA, Kauai » Kauai residents have set up protest signs in the heart of the oldest sugar town in the state, decrying a developer's plan to remove what many see as the town's identity -- huge, old monkeypod trees that form a partial canopy over Koloa Road.
The developer says the situation is just like the Superferry protests, with a lot of misinformation and anti-growth sentiment feeding the frustrations of a community.
Community leaders, however, say they are not against commercial development. They just want to save the trees.
More than 30 monkeypod trees -- at least 40 years old -- are on the property on the northeast corner of Koloa and Maluhia roads, owned by the Eric A. Knudsen Trust. The trust has owned the land for 135 years and has planned a commercial development on the site since the early 1980s, said Stacey Wong, trustee for the Knudsen property.
At least two-thirds of the trees have to be removed, Wong said, so that the Shops at Koloa Town development will fit into the general ambiance of the town. They don't want "another strip mall" with a bunch of old trees, Wong added.
The monkeypods "are not historic trees," Wong said. They were not planted, but germinated from the older trees across the street. Plus, roughly a third are diseased and need to go, Wong said. Plans are to replace them with other monkeypods, with the view that the canopy will be better than it is today.
But arborist Maureen Murphy, president of the Kauai Outdoor Circle, said a majority of the trees are historic, and residents remember those monkeypods dating back at least 50 years.
"It's always been (the belief) of the community that these are part of the town," said Louis Abrams, a Realtor and head of the Koloa Community Association. "I don't usually have a problem with private-property rights, but these trees are special."
Both sides -- with the county in the middle -- have been battling over the project for the past few years, and it's starting to get personal between friends and neighbors.
After nearly a year of meetings, plans and discussions, the community association came out behind the project as long as some conditions, including saving the trees, were met.
The county planning department agreed, and sent their recommendation to approve the building permits as long as the conditions were met. But when the trust sent a letter saying they were prepared to sue if the conditions were tacked on, the planning commission denied the project.
The Knudsen Trust sued, and, in an October deal with deputy county attorney James Tagupa, got their permits -- with few, if any, of the conditions that the community association had wanted.
And the countdown to the end of the trees began, Abrams said. "We still have unanswered questions as to what happened" with the settlement, he added.
Wong said, however, that the trust has worked hard with the community on the project, and that the dissenters amount to "anti-growth people, because they just don't know trees."
The project will eventually have more trees than it currently does, according to the developers. All trees that can be moved have been adopted around the town and will be transported and saved.
But Murphy, the Outdoor Circle's arborist, said it's the quality, not the quantity, that matters.
Because county laws allow parcels only 10 feet wide along Koloa Road, the 40-foot-wide monkeypods will have to be cut back to little more than stumps with small root balls. Replacement trees will also be leafless and have to be cut back, as they are guided by the same regulations.
"They will look really funny for several years," Murphy said, adding that the oldest trees slated for adoption will have a difficult time surviving.
Wong said that, in the end, the area will look much better with the new landscaping. And the shops will be a boon to the residents, as well as visitors.
The project is slated to begin construction within the next month, with the completion date in fall 2009.