Residents and representatives for a developer have lined up on opposing sides of a proposal by EWM Kauai LLC. to develop a 460-acre residential, commercial and golf course project on the coastline north of Hanama’ulu Bay.
At a public hearing at the Lihu’e Civic Center Tuesday, critics told the Kaua’i County Planning Commission the development of Ocean Bay Plantation would lead to urban sprawl.
Critics also said approval of the project would deprive Native Hawaiians their gathering rights, prevent residents from getting to the coastline and damage the environment through the creation of a golf course.
Supporters of the project, mostly consultants and representatives for EWM and some Kaua’i businessmen, pointed to the potential benefits of the project: high-quality homes, hundreds of new jobs and beautification of former sugarcane lands that have become fallow and have become an eyesore.
More than 40 people signed up to speak at the hearing. A staffer with the Kaua’i County Planning Department said the sentiment was overwhelmingly against the proposal.
Some Kaua’i residents say the proposed project could serve to divide the community as no other project has since the development of the 25-acre Nukoli’i resort between the 1970s and 1986. The resort abuts the EWM site.
In the case of the Nukoli’i development, supporters and opponents fought over the rezoning of the agricultural land to resort use.
EWM is proposing to develop its residential, golf course and commercial project in one of two ways.
Tuesday’s hearing on the project has been continued, with EWMseeking a general plan amendment for the land to change it from agricultural to residential/community use. The approval would allow construction of between 400 to 500 homes.
EWM also is seeking a variance from a county rule that allows only a one-time subdivision of agricultural lands.
If the variance is granted, fewer homes would be built in this scenario, but the sale price of lots is anticipated to be high because of their large size.
As part of the overall development, EWM also is seeking permits to revegetate 29 acres of coastline. A separate public hearing was held Tuesday and was continued.
The planning commission plans to visit the site on Aug.6.
On EWM’s proposed general plan amendment, Hawaiian activist Cheryl Lovell-Obatake said EWM should not be allowed to develop the project until the title of the land is clear.
Kuleana lands owned by Hawaiians exist on the property, and an environmental impact statement bears this out, Obatake said.
“It (ownership) needs to be clarified, Obatake said. “This has to be taken care of. Or you will have social problems with land issues dealing with ceded lands, Hawaiian home lands.”
Another critic, Ken Stokes, contended the project should not be allowed because the “economic projections” put forward by the developer to justify the project don’t have merit.
“As an economist, I have looked at the numbers, and they cooked the numbers,” Stokes said. “They used the highest available project(ions) for future growth.”
Stokes also said other areas in Puhi and Lihu’e zoned for urban use and owned by other companies should be developed first.
“They (EWM) are saying that they haven’t been built yet, and we got a better deal,” Stokes said. “In my view, that is irrelevant, because we already made other deals.”
Another critic, Puanani Rogers said the community is tired of the county granting variances that allow companies to deviate from rules to develop their properties.
“We think they should stick to what we have in the (county’s) general plan, and no alterations,” Rogers said.
But Kaua’i attorney Walton Hong, joined by as many as seven EWM consultants who would offer explanations to the commission on the merit of the project, said the project would benefit Kaua’i.
– The relandscaping and the golf course will beautify the area and become and extension of the “Gateway Project” that runs along roads to Lihue Airport. The $5 million project was initiated by Mayor Maryanne Kusaka and led to the landscaping and beautification of Kapule Highway and Ahukini Road.
“What we envision is another gateway, as you come along the property,” Hong said. “You will see a green belt and landscaping.”
People will see the ocean on the horizon instead of “weed and grass” that are found with dead trees on the property now, Hong said.
– EWM has proposed far less density than Amfac proposed when it owned the property.
– A “world-class golf course” and commercial center that will be “fitted architecturally” and will be sized to the area.
– Kaua’i County’s General Plan envisions more development in Lihu’e. In response, EWM is willing to help develop water sources in Lihu’e and Puhi.
– Taking Hanama’ulu off the Lihu’e sewage treatment system and having Hanama’ulu served by a new private, regional sewage treatment plant that might be placed on the EWM property. This project will extend the capacity of the Lihu’e plant, Hong contended.
EWM also will pay its fair share to develop such a private system, Hong added.
– The county’s general plan advocates the development of the high-tech industry.
Hong said the type of housing that will be offered at the EWM site will accommodate the housing needs of people working in that industry.
“If the leaders of the high-tech businesses are unable or are unwilling to locate to Kaua’i because they cannot fulfill their basic needs, then there will likely not be the level of high-tech industrial development envisioned in the general plan,” Hong said.
– Compared with the 46,000 acres sugar companies on Kaua’i have released since 1971, the acreage EWM proposes to remove from agricultural pursuits for its urbanized project is small, Hong contended.
– EWM will provide public access over improved roadways. Bicycle paths also will be created, he said.
The project drew the support of the Contractors Association of Kauai.
Jerry Nishek, president of the organization, said the group’s board was pleased to hear that the developer has been meeting with Hanama’ulu residents for input, feedback and suggestions for the project.
The project also drew support from Conrad Murashige, president of Shioi Construction.
“Kaua’i needs well-planned projects like Ocean Bay to benefit the community as a whole, with added residential lot inventory, new opportunities for business to expand or relocate along the highway and recreational areas, including the golf course that allows easier access to the shoreline,” Murashige wrote in a prepared statement. “These are the very things that enhance our quality of life on Kaua’i.”
During a separate hearing on EWM’s proposal to revegetate the 29 acres of coastline area, Bruce Pleas said the proposal should be combined with the general plan amendment request.
“Loopholes” could be created by taking the measures separately, Pleas contended. He also said the ironwood trees the sugar plantations put on the property 50 years ago to protect canefields from salt air and wind have historical value and should be left alone.
Sugar canefield roads that traverse the property also should be preserved, Hong said.
Other opponents of the project said the developer had trees sprayed with poison, a charge denied by Wong.
Jack Lundgren of Wailua commended the developer for proposing the cleanup and said the landscaping project should be implemented even if the larger project is denied.
Staff Writer Lester Chang can be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 225).