Home Depot gets strong support

A Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. proposal to construct a commercial retail center/warehouse and garden store on ten acres by the Kukui Grove Shopping Center provoked near unanimous support from business people at a Kaua’i County Planning Commission meeting Tuesday.

More than a dozen people who testified in a meeting at the Lihu’e Civic Center said the commission’s approval of a Class IV Zoning Permit will enable contractors to buy a wider array of building tools and building materials.

The approval will also allow islanders to shop longer and will provide another place for vendors to sell their goods, supporters said.

The proposal, however, drew protest from four to five critics, who said the project would take business away from all businesses on Kaua’i and that government has no business acting on Home Depot’s request because the title of the land is unclear.

It was a contention refuted by David Pratt, president of Grove Farm Land Corp., which owns the land on which the project is proposed. Pratt said the property was “Land Court lands” and that Grove Farm is the owner of the land.

The commission felt the testimony given was sufficient and closed the hearing. A decision on the permit request is pending.

Home Depot is proposing the construction of single-story building consisting of 119,200 square feet. Of that, 95,200 square feet is to be used as a “retail home improvement warehouse.” Connected to the main building will be a garden center of about 24,000 square feet.

Home Depot proposes to open seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to midnight daily, although the hours could be cut back if demand warrants it. The store also plans to hire 75 full-time and 75 part-time workers.

Bill McHale is the store manager of two Home Depot stores on O’ahu. Another store operates on Maui and one is about to open in Kona on the Big Island.

Home Depot has no intentions of driving competitors or smaller businesses out of business, McHale said. In the construction of the Oahu stores, McHale said Home Depot representatives talked with representatives from hardware and lumber stores like City Mill, Kilgos and Slims to reach an understanding about Home Depot’s markets. McHale said such stores will continue to specialize in items “we don’t carry.”

For the construction of the Kaua’i store, McHale said Home Depot would consider local contractors, but will do business with the one that can offer the best bid.

If approved, the Kaua’i project will generate additional revenues that will benefit Kaua’i and the state, McHale said.

McHale said the project is projected to produce $20 million in revenues in its first year, generate $104,000 in real property tax revenues for Kaua’i County in one year and $832,0000 in excise tax revenues.

In addition, the store anticipates paying $2.5 million in wages to 150 employees, half of whom will be full-time and half part-time, McHale said.

The Kaua’i store will be run by Hawai’i residents who have gone through extensive mainland training, McHale said.

When Home Depot opens a new store in a new location, it usually brings in 60 to 80 experienced employees to train people for the new store, he said.

Because Home Depot is cognizant jobs are hard to find on Kaua’i, the business will bring in fewer experienced workers to train employees or associates at the Kaua’i store, leaving more job openings to be filled by qualified local employees, McHale said.

“We attract people who have a lot of aloha, who have big hearts, and those are the type of people who we look for to work in our stores, (to provide better service to customers),” McHale said.

Home Depot is a corporate giant that wants to become part of a community, McHale said.

As with other Home Depot stores, operators of the Kaua’i store will encourage workers to get behind community projects. Home Depot also makes donations to the community.

Saying she represented the board of the Kaua’i Clamber of Commerce and a government affairs committee, KCC president Mamo Cummings spoke in favor of the Home Depot proposal.

She said she like the idea that Home Depot has made it a practice to use local businesses when possible and that the company has a commitment to become part of the community.

A supporter of the project, Wendall Sataoka, a third-generation self-employed Kaua’i businessman, said Home Depot will provide a place where vendors like himself can sell their products.

Sataoka also said that because building materials and goods are not always available on Kaua’i, many business people and residents already fly to O’ahu to shop at Home Depot stores there.

Another supporter of the project, Peter Robson, president of Unlimited Construction Services, a building contractor on Kaua’i, said the new store will offer a wider array of building tools and supplies than can be currently bought from stores on Kaua’i.

“Our construction business depends on having the correct tools and materials to build our projects,” he said. “Home Depot will no doubt increase the availability of quality supplies.”

His sentiments were echoed by other building contractors at the meeting.

The Home Depot store opens up the opportunity for his company to ship out tons of wood to the mainland for building or the making of fine wood products, said Bill Cowren, president of the Hawaiian Mahogany company, a local grower of hard woods.

Peggy Field, another supporter, said having a Home Depot on Kaua’i was the best news possible.

“Home Depot is just a wonderful thing we need here,” Field said. “It is so nice to hear something that is nice for Kaua’i.”

While it may be good news, a Home Depot could severely affect all businesses on Kaua’i, large and small, said Bruce Grantham, owner of Window Trends.

“One wonders if we need something quite so big,” he said.

A project of Home Depot’s size will bring benefits and consequences, said Wade Lord, general manager of Grove Farm Commercial Properties. Unfortunately, smaller and less competitive businesses will fold, but that situation is part of the business world, he said.

In opposition to the project, Elaine Dunbar said the state of Hawai’i has no right to decide the use of the land because its title is in question.

Pratt said no question over the title exists, adding it “is Land Court lands, so it’s pretty much no question about the ownership.”

Grove Farm proposes to sell the land to Home Depot once the project receives final subdivision approval by the Kaua’i County Planning Commission and approval by the state Land Court, according to Kaua’i attorneys Michael Belles and Max Graham Jr. , who are representing Home Depot.

A person who called himself a kanaka maoli, the indigenous people of Hawai’i, said the commission had no right to take action on the land because “these are ancient boundaries.”

A title report will be submitted as part of a subdivision application by Home Depot, said Dee Crowell, who heads the Kaua’i County Planning Department.

Dunbar also contended that proponents of the project are pushing it through even though she feels many questions remain.

Approval of the project will lead to urban sprawl, and the number of parking stalls, is an “assault on the island,” she said.

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