Bill aimed at opening up public access in new subdivisions approved by council

In recent years, crowds of Kaua’i residents have gathered at public meetings to complain to Kaua’i county officials about the loss of public access to the mountains and ocean.

The situation arose primarily because of new owners who bought former sugar cane lands and closed access to lands that had been used by generations of residents.

Now such conflicts are less likely to occur with the approval of legislation by the Kaua’i County Council yesterday aimed at protecting public access through new subdivisions.

A unanimous vote of approval by the council was hailed as a victory by residents seeking to preserve public access as Kaua’i becomes more urbanized.

Gary Hooser, a former councilman and now Kaua’i’s state senator, pushed for legislation during his term on the council to protect public access through private property from the shoreline to mountains.

Hooser’s intention was to require the Kaua’i County Planning Commission to require a property owner, as a condition for granting final subdivision approval for a project, to dedicate access over his or her property where no access exists.

Critics of the bill voiced concerns that the legislation could reduce the privacy sought by landowners and increase liability for the property owners through accidents on their land.

The legislation now goes to Mayor Bryan Baptiste for approval. As a councilman, Baptiste supported the legislation.

Details of the legislation includes:

– Protection of access from the highway to mountain areas where there are facilities for “hiking, hunting, fruit-picking, ti-leaf sliding and other recreational purposes,” and where there are existing mountain trails.

– Pathways shall be a minimum of ten feet in width.

– Access ways shall be designated along property lines at intervals of not less than 300 feet and not greater than 1,500 feet.

– Access ways are to be designed to specifications that are approved by the Kaua’i County Public Works Department and the Kaua’i County Planning Department.

– In cases where a subdivision is close to an existing access or where a county engineer determines the creation of an access is not feasible, the planning commission may requirement payment of an “in-lieu” fee by a landowner.

The fees would be paid to a county public access fund and can be used for the acquisition and development of public access paths.

– If a county engineer determines that a pathway, for instance, has to be closed for 30 days, a recommendation to close it has to be sent to the council.

If the pathway remains closed, for instance, and council approval has not been given, the county engineer can continue to keep the pathway closed for another 30 days.

If the council denies a recommendation to restrict passage over the pathway, the county engineer will not be able to extend restrictions over the pathway.

The provision on the power of the engineer was approved through an amendment proposed by councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

An original provision allowed the county engineer to restrict or prohibit passage over a pathway for 30 days if the engineer determined the pathway was unsafe, the area connected to the pathway was deemed hazardous and an area was begin reserved by the county as a “partial segment” for a future public access way.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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