Speak up, Kaua‘i: Don’t let developers rewrite Charter

In the 2008 general election Kaua‘i voters adopted by a nearly two-to-one margin a Charter amendment (Section 3.19) to end the profligate approvals being given by the Planning Commission for tourist accommodations and to entrust that authority to the County Council. The measure allowed the council the right to delegate such authority back to the Planning Commission subject to observance of a 1.5 percent annual growth rate in transient accommodations.

Last November a bill was introduced in the council purporting to exercise such delegation of authority to the Planning Commission. Following review by the Commission, a revised Bill 2410 has been returned to the Council. A public hearing before the Council Planning Committee (Nadine Nakamura, chairperson) has been scheduled on the bill for Aug. 3.

Bill 2410 in its present form contains provisions that appear to be disturbingly inconsistent with and in violation of the terms of the Charter amendment.

The Charter amendment provides that the council may by ordinance authorize the Planning Commission to permit construction of transient accommodation units (TAUs) with a limit at the rate of increase of 1.5 percent per annum on a multi-year average. The bill purports to adhere to the 1.5 percent limit criteria, but it exempts from such limit units of what are referred to as Existing Resort Projects (ERP). To qualify as an ERP the project must be (1) composed of one or more lots located in a Visitor Destination Area and in zoning districts that had been approved pursuant to a Project Zoning Ordinance and (2) the owner must have expended “Substantial Sums” on the project.

The bill states that the council has found that at the effective date of the amendment (December 2008) there were 9,203 transient accommodation units on Kaua‘i. 1.5 percent of that amount would allow about construction of about 140 units per year initially. Such a rate would be commensurate with the growth contemplated in the 2000 County General Plan.

But there is a huge problem! Over recent years the Planning Commission authorized zonings and subdivisions that, if and when built, would vastly exceed the guidelines in the 2000 General Plan for visitor accommodations. The county estimates that there are over 4000 ERP units. Under the proposed ordinance all of these units, if qualified, could be built in the next few years in addition to the 1.5 percent rate allowed by the amendment.

To illustrate the scope of this problem the total number of TAUs the Bill would allow which must be located in Visitor Destination Areas — Princeville, Kapa‘a, Lihu‘e and Po‘ipu — would be almost double the number of single-family residences now in these areas.

The Kaua‘i government has for many years been supportive of growth in tourism and construction of accommodations for our visitors. It is now facing the dubious but vocal claims of an unduly large group of owners who assert that they are entitled to build transient accommodations on demand.

The developers’ views on the bill as written are readily apparent. If they succeed in imposing the exemption for their resort projects in Bill 2410 they will achieve a virtually complete reversal of the purposes approved by the large majority of our voters.

The Coalition for Responsible Government which sponsored the Charter amendment plans to offer its concerns at the public hearing that the bill in its present form could threaten the rural nature of our county and result in its inundation with unauthorized tourist facilities.

It is quite clear that the current provisions of Bill 2410 would be violative of the amendment. I am advised that CRG is working on a proposal to change Bill 2410 which it will present at or before the council’s Aug. 3 public hearing.

The purpose of the proposal is allow the county to protect the position of those owners of land who have invested with a legitimate expectation of developing their property for transient use, and also to conform, over a reasonable time period, to the growth limitation set forth in the amendment.

It is intriguing to try to evaluate the prospects for the success of the CRG proposal.

Historically, county officials have pretty much marched in lockstep with the wishes of the major landowners who want to have a clear path to developing their property when they deem it advisable and profitable.

The officials have traditionally viewed with alarm the implicit threat that the county might be sued by property owners who consider their rights have been impaired. Although elected by the people of the county they tend to view the citizens as not vigorous about protecting their rights and some seem to consider the interests of the county residents as expendable.

There is a good probability that the attendance and testimony at the public hearing could be determinative of the course that the county will take. If the CRG appears to stand alone in its position that may reinforce county attitudes that it need not consider seriously the concerns of the general public.

Conversely a significant turnout of people who offer their concern about what would appear to be a major erosion of the broadly held views to resist urbanization of our island could well result in a council more prepared to respect community wishes.

YOU, dear reader, if you attend the public hearing or write to the council, could make a difference.

• Walter Lewis is a resident of Princeville and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.

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