Council considers land acquisition

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council is considering acquiring two plots of land on opposite sides of the island.

On Wednesday, the council discussed a .27-acre property in Wainiha and a 2.1-acre piece of land in Kekaha, both of which the Open Space Commission is proposing the county take charge of before they are sold.

But neither property has been appraised, and the council requested that be done before they take a final vote.

“How can we make a decision without a key piece of information?” said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura. “And when you get that piece of information, you can bargain. We need to bargain hard on the behalf of the taxpayer. That’s the bottom line for me.”

The Planning Department decided to use real property assessment as a guide. Appraisals would add at least two months to the process, and because both properties are on the open market, time is of the essence, said Ka’aina Hull, deputy planning director.

“The longer this is on the market, the closer that window comes to being closed because of a potential buyer,” he said.

Yukimura and Mel Rapozo, council chair, said appraisals should have been done before the requests came before the council.

“If there’s no appraisal, I’m not going to support it,” Rapozo said. “But what I’m more interested in is to hear from the public to see whether or not they want that access.”

The property in Wainiha is at 5-6910 Kuhio Highway, and is surrounded by residential properties. If acquired by the county, the land will be used for a parking lot so people can access a beach. Fishermen are already parking there, but they are trespassing on private land, said Shaylyn Kimura, open space commissioner.

It has as an assessed value of $576,000 and market value of $779,000.

Since the Open Space Commission has been looking at the Wainiha land, another buyer has come into the picture, Hull said.

Ted Blake, chair of the commission, said they chose not to go through the appraisal process because they wanted to seize the opportunity to purchase the land.

“If we don’t jump on it now, we’re going to be in litigation with people who have more money,” he said. “This price doesn’t happen often.”

In Kekaha, about 150 feet away from the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor, lies a plot of land containing the historical Chinese burial place, Pak Hook Tong Cemetery.

The Open Space Commission wants to acquire it as a way to create access to adjacent beaches and to provide outdoor recreation options on the Westside.

That land has an assessed value of $908,000 and a market value of $650,000.

Because the Department of Parks and Recreation does not have the resources to maintain the plots of land as a park, the county would have to rely on stewardship agreements to help maintain them, Hull said.

Councilman Mason Chock said upkeep of the properties was a key concern.

“I want to feel comfortable that we have stakeholders who are going to make sure it’s taken care of,” he said.

In Kekaha, two groups — Kekaha Community Gardens and Kekaha Hawaiian Homestead Assoication — have come forward, expressing interest in taking care of the land, Blake said.

Councilman Derek Kawakami questioned if the county should be in the business of taking responsibility of a cemetery.

“We’ve seen our challenges in maintaining some of our landscaping, and I can only imagine the public outrage if we were to acquire a cemetery and weren’t able to hold the standard of what a cemetery should look like, as far as respect for the deceased,” he said.

Chock agreed.

“We’re entering new territory because of the cultural aspect of preservation,” he said. “Kupuna are everywhere, and when we talk about what we’re investing in and how we’re going to take care of it, I’m not sure how we’re categorizing historical preservation, especially as it relates to the cemetery. I want to be sensitive to that.”

A public hearing on both requests is scheduled June 14.

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