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Future development threatens life as we know it on Kauai

In the first years of this century, times were prosperous on our island and developers were busily engaged in seeking county approvals for contemplated construction. By 2007, they had obtained from our Planning Commission, or as some called it our permitting commission, one or more approvals for building over 4,000 residential accommodation units.

Building this many new units would be several times the rate envisaged in the 2000 County General Plan and there was a broad concern among our residents that change of this order would endanger the Kauai we know.

In 2008, a charter amendment sponsored by a citizens group was adopted by a nearly two to one vote by which the county council replaced the Planning Commission as the final authority for approval of multi-unit residential developments.

The amendment visualized a quieter time ahead and authorized the council to return approval authority to the Planning Commission subject to its limiting approvals to a rate consistent with the General Plan.

The council, uncomfortable with the responsibility of having to make the findings required by amendment, in 2011 exercised its power by ordinance to return project residential accommodation approvals to the commission.

The commission was hamstrung by the outstanding approvals it had made, proceeded awkwardly and a developer lawsuit ensued, challenging the work by the commission under the ordinance and also the amendment.

The interests of the county and its citizens was entrusted to the county attorney’s office which, with the typical lackluster effort given to support citizen originated measures, ended with a trial court verdict invalidating the ordinance and the amendment which the county failed to appeal. While in the circumstances the result was not surprising, a valuable safeguard was lost.

It is now 2015 and with the loss of the charter amendment, the county is again without adequate defenses to developers’ aspirations. This time, the perceived problem is not the pace of development beyond the parameters of the General Plan, but instead the inadequacy of the county infrastructure to mitigate the development’s impact.

Both of the currently proposed residential constructions, Coco Palms and Hokua Place, are located in Kapaa. The infrastructure problem is the notorious Kapaa to Lihue traffic congestion on the Kuhio highway arising from its bottlenecks and the insufficient alternative of the bypass road.

Although the estimates by the developers as to the additional vehicle population the developments would generate are, as always, somewhat lower, it would appear that on completion and occupancy of the projects up to 3,000 vehicles would be added to Kauai’s population.

Kauai should not have to suffer a further stagnation of its east side traffic flow. But its governing officials have only themselves to blame for the situation that has developed. The lure of promised jobs, added tax revenues and better tourist accommodations has over past years proved irresistible.

We have known for years that our perimeter roadway system was becoming overloaded, but the required corrective action has not been taken.

It is also well known that funds for sufficient roads are limited and construction times are lengthy. Simply put, our future planning has been distressingly imperfect.

At this juncture, steps to prevent the impact of both the Hokua and the Coco Palms projects may not for legal and other reasons be assured, but that should not deter us from taking the action that will prepare us to face the effects of inevitable future development projects.

What critically needs to be done is for the council to enact an ordinance which confers upon itself the power and the duty to find, incident to approval of any multi-unit residential development project, that the infrastructure and other conditions are adequate to support it and to have council members who will resolutely enforce such a requirement.

A group of citizens has presented a proposal of this nature to a key council member. Our future societal well being makes it imperative that we make adequate preparation for the years ahead so that we are ready for the inevitable pressure that will arise.

If you, dear reader, care enough about our county to want to limit future development unless our county infrastructure is sufficient to serve it, let your voice be heard. The support of all citizens is invited so that we might protect and preserve the Kauai that we wish to have.

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Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.

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