Study: avoid sprawl, urbanize Lihu‘e

If Lihu‘e merchants don’t help update a development plan for the largest town on the island, they may lose business as commerce shifts away from town, says a Kaua‘i man who has written a thesis on the subject.

Development beyond Lihu‘e — the economic and social hub of the island — may contribute to island-wide urban sprawl that will create more traffic and development problems for Kaua‘i, Dr. Neil Clendeninn said in an interview Sunday.

“From my personal point of view, I think the business community needs to have a strong voice in the development of the community,” he said. “And if they don’t have that voice, they will probably lose business.”

That is the key message Clendeninn plans to make during a Lihu‘e Business Association meeting Thursday at Duke’s Canoe Club at Kalapaki Beach. The meeting will start at 7:30 a.m. and last until 9 a.m.

Clendeninn plans to discuss the subject of the Lihue Town Urban Design Plan being developed by PRB, a Honolulu consultant hired by Kaua‘i County.

Clendeninn said he will discuss his thesis and encourage Lihu‘e business people to step forward and participate in the future development of their town.

LBA spokeswoman Pat Griffin said, while the thesis has been completed and copies have been circulated, not many business people in Lihu‘e know about the details of Dr. Clendeninn’s work. “But they will if they come to the meeting,” Griffin said yesterday.

Clendeninn’s work is separate from the county’s update on the development plan for Lihu‘e.

Work on the county plan, being developed by a consultant, is anticipated to start in 2009, Clendeninn said.

The design plan — separate from what the county is doing — could recommend, for instance, the width of streets, setbacks of buildings to sidewalks, and the placement of parking stalls on the backside of business buildings, Clendeninn said.

The development plan by the county would be more specific and would recommend the size of buildings, for instance, he said.

Clendeninn, an oncologist by day, received a master’s degree with a focus on urban planning from the New School of Architecture and Design, San Diego.

His thesis references the design plan, but focuses on the development plan, he said.

To discourage urban sprawl beyond Lihu‘e, urban development should occur on vacant lands and undeveloped lands on both sides of Ahukini Road, he said.

“The idea is to have clustered development here so that we won’t have urban sprawl (elsewhere),” he said.

He said some points in his thesis reinforce the need to cluster development. And while government has talked about such development strategies, it appears it has not moved more forcefully in that direction, Clendeninn said.

And that situation exists, he believes, because government has not followed plans that have advocated that strategy.

“We have a plan, but we aren’t doing anything to implement the plan,” he said.

Kaua‘i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, when she was mayor from 1988 to 2003, supported the idea of clustering buildings to promote good planning.

She brought in a planning director from the Mainland who advocated the same type of development philosophy.

To encourage more building in Lihu‘e today, Clendeninn suggested building apartments and town homes and houses on top of store fronts, opening the way for people to live in Lihu‘e, where they might work, walk about town and shop in town.

With living arrangements like that becoming a reality, people who live in town won’t need to get on the roads and contribute to traffic congestion, he said. “They won’t need their cars,” Clendeninn said.

The building of such units in the gap area along Ahukini between Wal-Mart and the airport also would offer affordable housing options a young family would want, he said.

“The array of housing units offers different types of living arrangements other than a home on a quarter acre of land that sells for $700,000,” Clendeninn said.

The slopes of the Kilohana Crater are another area where residential and business development can occur, he said.

“There is vacant sugar cane land there where housing can be built and density can be created in Lihu‘e, so that urban density doesn’t go beyond Puhi,” he said.

He offered two techniques the government can use to stifle urban sprawl:

• Allow transfer of development rights from one parcel to another parcel closer to Lihu‘e.

“For instance, you have a hundred acres which can accommodate 600 homes, and somebody could buy the rights from the person who owns the 100 acres and have those homes put closer to Lihu‘e,” Clendeninn said.

• Staggered infrastructure.

Clendeninn said Wal-Mart and Costco were built on the edge of the town core, but he likes them because smaller businesses have built around them, thereby helping to curb urban sprawl.

Other businesses, however, have opted to move out of town anyway, as rents for storefronts have become inflated because of their proximity to the big box stores.

Clendeninn favors the Kaua‘i General Plan Update of 2000 because, in essence, it calls for responsible planning for the island.

“The Kaua‘i General Plan is an excellent plan,” he said. “The plan is to keep Kaua‘i rural and keep its natural beauty and to promote diversified agriculture and business development. It really covers a lot of different aspects.”

Lihu‘e Business Association’s objective is to enhance regional business goals, set up networking systems, help with planning, assist with community development and provide a strong voice to county, state and federal governments.

To hear about this alternative planning idea and more on where the county is going, attend the meeting Thursday.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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