Fighting for preservation

LIHUE — There aren’t even blueprints, let alone construction plans, but the idea of another South Shore resort already has neighbors and county officials concerned. They say they are wary of plans to designate a 13-acre section of Mahaulepu for future resort development over the next 20 years.

That proposal is outlined in the county’s draft South Kauai Community Plan, which guides future development in Poipu, Kukuiula, Koloa, Kalaheo, Lawai and Omao until 2035.

Some opponents say eyeing the culturally and environmentally sensitive area for a possible hotel is out of bounds.

“The local people have lost a lot of land — access to their favorite area — and I don’t live in the South Shore, but I still feel the same way that they do,” County Planning Commission Chair Jan Kimura said at a recent meeting. “Having a resort where one of the last strongholds for the locals to hang out, that to me is kind of unacceptable.”

Plan consultant Kimi Yuen, senior associate at PBR Hawaii and Associates Inc., said the 13.4-acre area near the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa was selected for future resort development to accommodate projected hikes in visitor arrivals over the next 20 years.

The South Shore area, she said, has historically served as one of the island’s main vacation destination areas and likely will continue to host about 35 to 37 percent of all accommodations on Kauai over the next two decades.

Of the 8,675 visitor accommodation rooms available on Kauai in 2013, more than a third of them, or 3,169 rooms, were in Poipu and Kukuiula, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority data.

“South Kauai really is the heart of where your visitors come to — this is your primary resort district on the island, so be aware that this is the place people want to go,” Yuen told Planning Commissioners.

The problem, however, was working with residents and community leaders to identify areas that can accommodate the estimated 1,085 more rooms needed in the South Shore by 2035.

“Everyone didn’t want them in the town cores, they didn’t want to see it sprawling into green fields or ag lands, so there was the proposed area, which was the former nursery site for the golf course,” Yuen said.

Current plans, however, call for limiting any proposed resort development on the Mahaulepu parcel to 10 units per acre, or 134 rooms, and extending Shipwreck Beach to provide beach access, public parking and a comfort station.

“By simply adopting this plan, most of the proposed zoning actions will not occur,” County Long-range Planner Marie Williams said. “For example, if any resort area is shown on our community land use map, that does not mean that, once the plan is approved, the landowner can submit an application for a hotel in the area the next day. There’s still a lot of work with these future zoning actions … and that takes awhile, and then they have to come back to the county and seek rezoning.”

But not everyone is on board with the recommendations.

Planning Commissioners Angela Anderson and Amy Mendonca said they would rather have the area preserved as open space. The addition of about 1,325 units to the Poipu area, Mendonca said, already have been approved as a part of expansion plans for existing hotels.

“Mahaulepu offers historical, cultural and generations of Hawaiiana in that area, and as long as we can keep it as pristine as possible without allowing another resort in that area, I think is our responsibility to not only for those who share the sensitivity but for the future,” Mendonca said.

Suzanne Kashiwaeda, president of the environmental protection group, Malama Mahaulepu, agreed, saying the area is one of the few places left on the island where residents and tourists can go to relax.

“If we’re going to be dependent on tourism as a driving industry here, we need to be able to feel and benefit from that aloha spirit,” Kashiwaeda said. “I truly feel those of us who live on the Westside need some place to go to where we can renew our source of aloha.”

Planning Commissioner John Isobe said he would like the plan to have stronger language to help clarify a longstanding quandary: whether Mahaulepu should or should not be developed.

“In trying to set the long vision, I see the plan as an opportunity to bring more clarity to that debate and hopefully put that debate to rest so there’s not an uneasy tension between people in the community and the landowner in terms of how should we do it, what can we do and how do we approach this,” Isobe said.

Doing so, however, is difficult since the community has not come to a consensus about what future changes should happen in Mahaulepu, if any at all, said Planning Director Michael Dahilig.

“This is, I guess, a very complicated issue in the sense that there’s some people who don’t believe agriculture is appropriate in Mahaulepu, to the degree that they’re having present discussions about the dairy,” Dahilig said. “There’s a wide scale of people who want to have the area either remain conservation, or be put into conservation all the way up to the resort, and there’s nothing we can say at this juncture that we can put on the record that will satisfy the broader range of the community, if we were to put up one or two options.”

What the current community plan could do, he said, is propose ideas for Mahaulepu that are consistent with approved uses for important agriculture lands recognized by the state.

“At this juncture, the testimony has really been all over the place — it really has been — and the issue of preserving Mahaulepu has been around longer than some of us have been alive,” Dahilig said. “It’s not something we take lightly, but I think we are, from a policy standpoint, trying to find the most appropriate way to find flexibility and consistency in the future without proposing any option.”

Mendonca, however, was skeptical.

“Oftentimes, we make these projections and we do it with great intent and goodwill, but if we don’t protect our foresight, commissioners will be sitting in the same situation that we often times face here right now where something happened in the past and there’s very little we can do to make any strong impacts occur,” Mendonca said. “I feel we need to be very cautious in changing zones or rezoning until we’re absolutely sure that these open spaces need to be developed.”

The Planning Commission will consider changes to the South Kauai Community Plan during its Dec. 9 meeting, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the county’s Moikeha Building, Meeting Room 2A/2B.

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