LIHU‘E — After months of long meetings laced with heated exchanges, lawsuit threats and distinct opinions, the Kaua‘i County Council has passed legislation to regulate growth of Transient Accommodation Units.
The council on Wednesday unanimously approved the final version of Bill 2410, which appeared to appease developers, lawmakers and those who have been fighting to preserve the island’s rural character.
“Today we are on the verge of reaching a major milestone in the process of responsibly guiding Kaua‘i’s future,” North Shore resident Carl Imparato said at the meeting.
Imparato, along with Princeville resident Walter Lewis and others, had been pivotal in pushing for the 2008 ballot question mandating that the county regulates TAU growth. Voters approved the amendment to the County Charter by a roughly two-to-one margin.
Minutes prior to the council’s roll call, a parade of compliments marched through Council Chambers at the Historic County Building. After the final vote, those who had been entrenched on opposite fronts came out of their fox holes hugging and kissing each other as if they had been best friends since childhood.
“The application of the charter amendment could have exploded into an expensive and gut-wrenching series of lawsuits and/or acrimonious wrangling and warfare at council and Planning Commission meetings and in public,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said. “But because we now have a conscientious and skilled Planning Department-County Attorney team and an able Planning Committee chair and council chair, and a dedicated representative of the citizen group that brought forth the charter amendment, we have navigated our way to a conclusion that most of us can live with.”
Despite the back-patting and the friendliness in which the day ended, some were still licking their wounds.
“We strongly support passage of this bill,” said David Arakawa, executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation.
But he gave an array of other cases in which developers have won over trampled vested rights, and added that there may be some legal challenges from some developers of multi-phased projects.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro responded to Arakawa by saying that each council member is charged with stewardship of the island.
“This bill that we came up with is what we think is fair and reasonable,” he said, encouraging Arakawa to initiate dialogue with the county attorney and the Planning Department.
Arakawa’s testimony appeared to be a reference to a development in Nukoli‘i, an issue near and dear to Yukimura. As a young, budding politician in the mid-1970s, she was in the hurricane’s eye of what is arguably Kaua‘i’s most controversial land development battle to date.
Yukimura’s attachment to Nukoli‘i resurfaced Sept. 28, when she stopped just short publicly scolding Lynn McCrory, president of PAHIO Development. McCrory had tried to have council pass an amendment to the bill that would have exempted an extra 1,000 units at Nukoli‘i. She argued that the project was a tri-phased development that had complied with all government requirements for infrastructure in phase one.
Councilman Tim Bynum said the process was a landmark on how council should proceed.
Although he didn’t have the specific number of how many people were involved in crafting the bill, he said, “We found common ground.”
Yukimura’s final comments Wednesday on the bill similarly praised everyone involved in its formation and fine-tuning. But, like Arakawa, she changed the tune and lyrics of her testimony.
“Most of us are relieved,” she said. “Some may be happy. I’m sorry to say, I’m not one of them.”
Yukimura said she didn’t think the bill resolves the underlying problem: a need for better planning and effective growth management.
“I am voting for the bill because I don’t think that another version of the bill could stop most of the growth, due to vesting and equitable estoppel,” she said. “Through an extremely broken planning process, the horses were let out of the barn before the charter amendment passed.”
Imparato, who actively worked to put a stop on uncontrollable TAU growth by lending more than a hand to craft the 2008 ballot question and the subsequent bill that passed Wednesday, seemed to walk away satisfied with the result.
“Bill 2410 clearly establishes that the County of Kaua‘i can and will manage its growth in the 21st Century,” he said. “This is extremely important.”
Imparato said the bill “bends too far” to accommodate the needs of developers, but overall it’s not unreasonable.
“It will comply with the Charter Amendment’s rate-of-growth concept over the long haul,” he said.
The bill “puts teeth” into the General Plan, he added, and recognizes a shift to a new planning environment, in which the people, rather than land developers and an unregulated marketplace, determine Kaua‘i’s future.
Imparato’s fine-tuned parting testimony also praised and amazed everyone, bringing together the fox and the hen. One of the developers even described Imparato’s testimony as “uplifting.”
Council members Dickie Chang and Mel Rapozo specifically thanked Imparato.
“I don’t know how you did it, but you were able to collectively get the community, so we dealt with one person that was representing a lot of people,” Rapozo told Imparato. “You made it a lot easier for us at this table.”
Almost 70 percent of Kaua‘i voters in 2008 approved a charter amendment to keep TAU growth lined up with the county General Plan. This meant the county would have to keep TAU growth at 1.5 percent of the existing inventory prior to December 2008, when the amendment went into effect, or along the lines of a growth proposed in any future General Plan.
Imparato said that in order to bring more flexibility to the implementation of the amendment, the number of TAU certificates could be calculated in a multi-year basis, giving flexibility to allow 5.1 percent growth in a five-year allocation cycle.
The current number of TAU is 9,200, according to the Planning Department. Prior to December 2008, some 4,650 TAUs had been approved but not acted upon. If the lease-holders of these TAUs decide to build right away, Kaua‘i’s inventory would have a 50 percent sudden increase.
The final bill has different scenarios for allowing those exempted units to go forward. If many permittees act upon their permits in a short period, the allocation of TAU certificates could drop significantly. If TAU growth lags behind because permittees decide to sit on permits, the TAU allocation could increase, but not over the 1.5 percent cap.
Visit www.kauai.gov for more information.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.