General Plan addresses a growing island community

LIHUE — An ever-growing population on the Garden Isle is a two-fold issue, officials say.

“We are continuing to grow,” said Mike Dahilig, planning director. “And we cannot stop people from moving to Hawaii. It’s against federal law, as much as people may want to believe there’s ways to do that.”

But a majority of Kauai’s population is coming from local residents whose families continue to expand, Dahilig said.

According to demographics released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau, the average size for Kauai families is 3.8 children, tied with Honolulu County for the highest in the state. Additionally, the birth rate for 2016 was 5 percent.

“We need to be careful about how we simplistically look at growth as a problem because it’s going to happen, and we need to be mindful of who that growth is,” Dahilig said.“Historically, you see a large majority of growth being from natural growth.”

Dahilig said he wasn’t surprised by the finding.

“People want to have families, and the concept of handling that kind of growth tends to be forgotten in the context of looking at how the community is changing,” Dahilig said. “Because that growth, coupled with someone who is moving here, they both need the same sewer, water and services.”

There is also an increase in the aging population, he added.

“As the population continues to age, you’re seeing the population start to skew where you’re seeing a reduction in the employee base but also an increase in the average median age of the island,” he said.

According to the Census Bureau, there are 71,735 people who call Kauai home. As of July 2015, which was the most recent data, 18 percent of the population were 65 or older. That is an increase of almost 5 percent from the 2010 Census.

In 2015, the number of residents 18 or under is 22.3 percent, a slight decrease from the 2010 Census, which recorded 22.7 percent of Kauai residents as 18 or under. Children under 5 came in at 6.4 percent.

Blueprint for the future

Those statistics and information from advisory studies on items like climate change, agriculture, socioeconomics and land use were then incorporated into the General Plan, which serves as blueprint for the future of the island.

The General Plan, which contains everything from protecting Kauai’s beauty and the watersheds to addressing the Kapaa traffic and designing healthy and complete neighborhoods, was last updated in 2000.

A 357-page updated discussion draft was released Nov. 4, after 18 months of public outreach.

But the $1.2 million project started in 2013, when the Planning Department began researching how to move forward with the update, Dahilig said.

The funds for the plan went toward ordering studies and research, Dahilig said.

“Our strategy on the General Plan was ‘Here’s our numbers. How do you want to approach these numbers?’” he said. “We’ve taken the presumption growth is happening, whether we like it or not, and how do we want to handle this growth.”

Closing the airport or telling families to stop having children is not a solution, he added.

“The idea of directing how growth happens is a community value that everybody has to have buy-in for,” he said. “That’s where we’ve taken the real effort of trying to listen to the community.”

After the discussion draft was released, the Planning Department hosted several open houses around the island to gather feedback from the public.

The comment period ended Dec. 16. The department received over 1,000 comments, from people wanting affordable housing to better management of resort and tourism growth. Employees of the Planning Department are sifting through the comments, all of which will be put online.

Growth on the island is looked at in two ways: spatially, as in where it is physically on a map; and by policy, as in what do the homes look like and what kind of uses are promoted, Dahilig said.

The General Plan marries both ways of thinking.

Scrutinizing the plan

The beginning of the General Plan outlines four goals for Kauai — a sustainable island, a unique and beautiful place, a healthy and resilient people and and equitable place with opportunity for all.

“Those are values all of us have in common, and rather than looking at what separates us, we need to look at what we have in common and build on those values,” Dahilig said.

After those goals were outlined, the department came up with 20 policies and outlined action plans to address the four goals.

Anne Walton, a Kapaa resident who is part of a team of citizens that took a hard look at the General Plan, said the group submitted several recommendations to the Planning Department after about a month of gathering information and holding meetings.

The group was led by Walton, Laurie Quarton, Sharon and Kip Goodwin, John Moore and Greg Crowe.

A group of about 40 residents broke into 13 groups to tackle a different part of the plan. On Dec. 12, they met at the Lihue Community Center to present their recommendations and get input from the audience, Walton said.

“As one can imagine, this has required an enormous amount of coordination, time commitment and reconciling of comments and recommendations — all from a volunteer crew of dedicated community members,” Walton said.

But the group’s work isn’t yet complete, she said.

“In an ideal situation, we would have had the time to develop more robust recommendations based on a detailed characterization and understanding of the data, history and root causes of the issues we are addressing, as well as the solutions we propose,” she said. “Without this complete and in-depth information and analysis, with some exceptions, the recommendations are based on the best and most immediately available information.”

The biggest question that came from the meetings is how the plan will be implemented, Walton said.

“The 2000 General Plan included an enormous amount of community input, a well-crafted and supported vision, yet the issues identified at that time have not been addressed, and only exacerbated by time. Unfortunately this has left us with a plan today that has to largely focus on problems created in the past, instead of moving us forward to embrace a more enlightened and deliberate future,” she said.

Carl Imparato, who lives in Hanalei, said the draft needs to better address the expanding tourism industry on the island.

“The draft General Plan proposes no policies and no actions to try to limit tourism growth to a safe, manageable, sustainable level. Major changes must be made to the draft if the General Plan is to be credible,” he said. “The General Plan’s policy should be to limit tourism to a level that does not exceed infrastructure capacity, does not threaten Kauai’s rural character, and does not degrade residents’ quality of life.”

After the comments are read and integrated into the draft, it will then go to the Planning Commission as a departmental draft. Once it’s approved, it will be taken to the Kauai County Council as a commission draft.

The council will then vote to pass it into law. Once passed, it will go to Mayor Bernard Carvalho for his signature.

The draft will be up for public hearing in both venues, for residents to voice their opinions. There’s no timeline set for the draft to go to either entity, Dahilig said.

Moving forward, the challenge to addressing growth on the Garden Isle is preserving what makes it unique, Dahilig said.

“People come to Kauai for its raw natural beauty and its community,” he said. “People don’t want to see those values lost. That is always in the back of our mind.”

To view the draft, go to plankauai.com.

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