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Thursday, November 23, 2000

Kauai plans its
future: How many
tourists? How
many new homes?

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent

LIHUE -- The Kauai County Council's Planning Committee has approved a new general plan while reversing several pro-development actions taken earlier by the county Planning Commission.

The updated general plan, which has been in the works for three years, provides policy guidelines for all planning and zoning on the island for the next 20 years. It goes to a vote of the Council on Wednesday.

The new general plan makes no radical changes in the way Kauai will look over the next two decades. It anticipates the island will maintain its rural character with the major urban center in Lihue. But there was considerable disagreement between pro-development and anti-development factions over some specific proposals.

The plan was drafted by a consultant, Plan Pacific of Honolulu, with input from a 32-member Citizens Advisory Committee. It then went to the Planning Commission, will now be voted on by the County Council and if passed, will go to Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, who is likely to sign it into law.

The single most contentious issue was the average daily tourist count in the year 2020. It will be used as the basis for many construction programs ranging from hotels and time shares to residential areas and public works programs.

Environmental groups fought to keep the number low, hoping that by limiting the number of facilities for tourists they could contain the size of other projects.

The business community, on the other hand, argued for a high number. They hoped to attract more tourists to the island under the "if we build it they will come" theory.

Currently, the average daily number of tourists on Kauai is about 18,000.

The Citizens Advisory Committee, which was made up of a very diverse group of competing interests, settled on a maximum of 28,000 in 2020.

The figure was increased to 32,000 by the Planning Commission, a highly pro-development group chaired by Gary Baldwin, who heads the Kauai Economic Development Board and who represents Kauai on the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Yesterday, the Council committee pared the figure to 28,000. The Council is expect to adopt that number next week.

Almost as controversial was the issue of "the maps."

The plan that came out of the Citizens Advisory Committee called for a limited number of new developments around the island.

For example, Kauai already has 12,000 residential lots permitted but unused. That's more than enough for the next 20 years, according to Plan Pacific's Robin Foster. The new plan added another 2,000 residential units shown on maps in the back of the plan.

But the Planning Commission drew new maps, greatly increasing the sizes of many projects and adding some that earlier had been rejected. All of the additions are specific projects for specific developers.

Yesterday, Kauai residents opposed to development asked the Council to do away with the maps entirely. The argued that the maps give the developers automatic approval for their projects.

"You're deciding who it is who will make money and who is not if you keep the maps," environmental activist Marge Freeman told the Council.

Former Mayor JoAnn Yukimura said placing specific projects on the maps amounts to approval of major developments without any study of their impact on a wide variety of issues ranging from the demand on utilities and roads to schools and employment. She urged the Council to leave the maps out and consider each development individually in the future.

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