Puhi Safeway safety concerns aired

Residents yesterday aired concerns over a proposed commercial center in Puhi that will feature a nearly 56,000-square-foot grocery store among a mix of local and national retailers, restaurants, banks, offices, a community center and gas station.

The county Planning Commission heard concerns about how the developer, Safeway Inc., plans to address the potential impact to a nearby school, how traffic will be mitigated and how mountain views from Kaumuali‘i Highway will be preserved. If these issues can be resolved, as representatives of the developer said they could, residents seemed ready to welcome the project.

The afternoon public hearing at the Mo‘ikeha Building was the next step in the permitting process. Before making its decision on the application, the commission is expected to weigh the testimony, government agency comments and planning director’s report.

This would be the second Safeway on the Eastside. The California-based national chain operates a roughly 37,000-square-foot store in Kapa‘a. But attorney Laurel Loo, representing Safeway, said the latest would be a “lifestyle store,” featuring juice bars, Wi-Fi and a focus on organic food.

The application says the Puhi Safeway would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while the other stores in the proposed center would be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The proposed commercial center, which would have 1,028 centrally located parking stalls, would be on 23 acres owned by Grove Farm.

Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School and the YMCA of Kaua‘i sit across the street from the parcel to the west. To the east, the center would be an extension of sprawling commercial outlets including Home Depot and Costco, Kukui Grove and dozens of offices and restaurants. Residential developments, including a retirement community, also border the property.

Loo said the input from months of community outreach was incorporated into the project. Specifically, measures to ensure safety, address traffic, create a community space and establish a new consumer experience were included.

The planning director’s preliminary report notes that Lihu‘e is the island’s commercial hub. It also says the proposed center would soften its visual impact with some 4 acres of landscaping.

Mitigating vehicular and pedestrian traffic is a central concern in county planner Ka‘aina Hull’s report, which was signed by Planning Director Ian Costa on Oct. 23.

The commission will likely have to resolve the developer’s proposed four access points. While Safeway representatives said they are needed to disperse traffic, the Planning Department’s position is that at least one of those should not be allowed for safety and congestion reasons.

County documents show the developer is running off an assumption that the Department of Transportation will, within the next year or two, begin its road-widening improvements to make Kaumuali‘i Highway four lanes. Safeway’s traffic expert said he expects the widening to be completed about the same time the store would open — within a couple years.

The report says this could impact what signals and turn lanes are appropriate at access points, which include Rapozo Crossing, Nuhou and Kaneka streets.

Specifically, the report says the proposed access point on Nuhou Street, across from the school’s bus access, “may not be appropriate.” The proposed signal “could serve to congest the street during peak hours.”

But without the signal, the crossing poses a “serious safety concern for students” intending to access the center. As such, it should be prohibited, the report says.

Hull recommends in the report that the developer landscape all of Nuhou Street with hedging that discourages students, children or any other pedestrian from crossing the road at any place other than the designated crosswalk at the intersection of Nuhou and Kaneka streets.

Commissioner James Nishida voiced his concerns over the ability of students and seniors to safely cross the road to the center.

The traffic expert said a roundabout could be installed, similar to the one in Kapa‘a, making Nuhou two lanes with a median in between. Several other options were also proposed for the commission to consider.

Commissioner Herman Texeira voiced concerns over the location and timing.

“To have a shopping center next to a school is just not a real good idea,” he said, adding that it seems there was no other choice and that a bypass is probably needed.

Safeway’s project manager, noting the struggling economy, said the company has received signed letters of interest for three-quarters of the space in the center.

Aside from addressing traffic issues, Safeway representatives said they are open to exploring photovoltaic possibilities and pursuing other sustainability measures such as energy-efficient lighting.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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