To preserve the island’s rural lifestyle, the Kaua‘i County Planning Commission has recommended the County Council approve laws to limit the size of “big box” stores to more than 75,00 square feet.
Meeting recently at the Lihu‘e Civic Center, the commission approved a Planning Department recommendation for zoning amendments to limit retail and wholesale stores to that square footage in commercial, industrial and resort areas.
The planners generally based their recommendation on a 2000 Kaua‘i General Plan priority to preserve the island’s rural lifestyle, character and open space.
The council will now conduct an analysis and hold hearings on four different zoning amendment laws before rendering a decision.
Both the council and Mayor Bryan Baptiste proposed the legislation following the opening of Costco in Lihu‘e last October.
With 152,000 square feet under one roof, the store is the island’s largest big box store, drawing praise and criticism from small merchants and residents at meetings.
Wal-Mart has said approval of the ordinances would severely hamper plans to expand its Lihu‘e store into a supercenter, which would offer an array of low-priced groceries, fruits and produce.
Contacted by phone in Los Angeles yesterday, Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin McCall said some 4,000 residents have voiced support for the supercenter.
He said he would hope some if not all would voice similar sentiments during upcoming council hearings and meetings.
“We believe there is more support, and those are the people we would expect to come out,” McCall said.
Residents support Wal-Mart not only because its prices are low, but because it is part of the community, he said.
The Lihu‘e Wal-Mart has operated for 12 years, employs more than 400 employees and has supported community events, McCall said.
He said Wal-Mart representatives will attend the council meetings to challenge the legislation.
The Planning Department said the general plan provides the foundation for imposing the limitation, which can be likened to an existing four-story building height limit that has helped maintained the island’s rural feel and look.
“The proposed legislation compliments the vision of an island that is low scale in height and building mass and reinforces the vision that Kaua‘i is rural by design and character,” a Planning Department report states.
In support of the legislation, owners of Big Save stores, Sueoka Store in Koloa, Ishihara market in Waimea Town and residents have said allowing any more big box stores the size of Costco will severely damage their business and may drive stores out of business.