Residents rally for monkeypods

KOLOA — When Kaua’i Planning Commissioner members meet tomorrow, some Koloa residents are anticipated to press them not to relocate 15 or so, 70-plus-year-old monkeypod trees by the Koloa post office, to make way for the construction of what could be the largest shopping center in Koloa.

Plans by leaders of Koloa Marketplace LLC to relocate the trees from their project site, a 7.5-acre parcel and a 27,000-square-foot parcel located east of the intersection of Maluhia and Koloa roads, to Po’ipu, would greatly diminish the history, character and charm of Koloa town, critics say.

“I feel the trees not being there will be a diminishing factor to the quality of life in Koloa that we all know,” said Ted Blake, the brother of former Kaua’i County Attorney Hartwell H.K. Blake and the son of Hartwell K. Blake, the head of the Kaua’i County Board of Supervisors (now the County Council).

“The roots of the trees are our grandparents, the bark is the skin of our parents, the trunk represents the children that will grow strong, the branches are our grandchildren, the small tree stems are our great-grandchildren, and the leaves show the quality of our life in Koloa town.”

Hartwell and at least a dozen other residents and merchants from the Koloa area stressed the importance of not relocating the trees during a gathering in the parking lot outside the Koloa post office Friday.

Members of the Kaua’i Planning Commission are expected to discuss the application for permits necessary to construct the shopping center at their meeting at the Lihu’e Civic Center Mo’ikeha Building first-floor conference room.

At least three of the towering monkeypod trees are found in the parking lot of the existing Koloa post office. The building is slated to be relocated under the developer’s plans for the center.

The other 12 trees line Koloa Road by Koloa Marketplace’s project site.

A resident group spokesperson said 70 people were ready to speak against the relocation of the trees at the Jan. 24 commission meeting, but were not able to do so because of a crowded agenda.

Many of them planning on attending tomorrow’s 9 a.m. public hearing during a special meeting of the Kaua’i County Planning Commission called to finish up agenda items from the Jan. 24 meeting.

Opponents said they want to have protected also a “major” blue myrtle tree located near the intersection of Koloa and Weliweli roads, near the proposed shopping center site.

Stacey T.J. Wong of the Knudsen Trust, which is connected with the project, was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

For their project, the leaders of Koloa Marketplace LLC. propose to construct a 76,200-square-foot retail building complex with offices on two parcels that are zoned for urban use.

Plans call for the relocation of the Koloa post office, for a third time, to an area within the shopping-center site. The post office would be located on the lower level of a new, two-story structure that would be built farther back from the existing post office, which fronts Koloa Road.

The shopping center also will be home to restaurants. In addition, 343 paved parking stalls would be created.

The residents said in general that they support a “downsized” project, and would not support it if the trees are moved.

Long-time Koloa residents Walter Briant and his wife, Carol Ann Davis, have led the charge to keep the trees where they are.

Briant, a Kaua’i businessman and a 46-year resident of Koloa, said the developers, by virtue of the zoning, have the right to develop the project.

What he is hoping for is that the project “adds to, or least not subtract from, the ambiance of this community, and that ambiance is those trees,” he said.

His wife, a lifetime resident of Hawai’i and a 40-year resident of Koloa, said, “To me, Koloa is our trees,” and that “we don’t want them in Po’ipu. We want them right where they are.”

The trees are an invaluable asset, she said. “These are really old trees, and they should be left (alone),” she said.

Blake said the first two monkeypod trees planted in Hawai’i were planted at the Koloa Missionary Church on Po’ipu Road, and at the corner of Hotel and Bishop streets in Honolulu. The latter was cut down to make room for the construction of an office building.

Blake said Kaua’i County residents have distinguished themselves by having the largest number of monkeypod trees in the state, and most of the big ones are in Koloa.

“We got more monkeypod trees than any other town in Hawai’i,” Blake said.

John Kruse, who has lived in Koloa since 1979, said the trees are “one of the most important things” in Koloa. “The trees are the resource,” and offer a reminder of the immigrants who first came to work in Hawai’i’s sugar industry and succeeding generations of family members who have benefited from that industry, he said.

“The roots of the trees are our grandparents, the bark is the skin of our parents, the trunk represents the children that will grow strong, the branches are our grandchildren, the small tree stems are our great-grandchildren, and the leaves show the quality of our life in Koloa town,” Kruse said.

Marty Kuala said she has worked and lived in Koloa for more than 30 years, and, “to me, it is all-important to keep the trees,” and “if the developers have to downscale to provide for all these trees, so be it.”

Deron Winters, who works at Island Soap & Candle Works, a business in Old Koloa Town, said, “I have looked out my window for seven years at these trees. I do feel they are a very important part of Koloa.

“There is no need to take them down,” Winters said. “The developers (should) develop responsibly around these trees, incorporate these trees in your development.”

His wife, Amy, echoed Winters’ sentiments, but added that the developers should build either affordable housing on the site, or storefronts for businesses like a laundry mat, a dry cleaner or a hardware store, providing services for residents that are not available in Koloa today.

Ken Gibbs, a Koloa businessman and a homeowner in Koloa, said he has much to gain by having more businesses move into the area.

But, he noted, “I stand completely opposed to it, because they are developing without first thinking through what Koloa stands for, and why people live in Koloa.

“The trees are probably the most important part of that, and the character of Koloa is the trees,” Gibbs said.

Kristi Gibbs, who moved with her husband to Kaua’i from Maryland a year ago, said negotiating a vehicle around the monkeypod trees in the parking lot of the post office can be challenging, because space is tight.

She said, however, that she doesn’t mind the inconvenience, because the old trees, whose canopy of overhanging branches provide shade and shelter from the rain and harsh sunlight, remind her “of the history of this town.”

The residents said they will focus their immediate attention on the tree issue at Tuesday’s meeting, but also will lodge other concerns, including those about traffic.

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