Allan Parachini’s recent reporting about the overabundance of visitors and cars at Haena State Park has sparked a passionate discussion about too many visitors on Kauai. To the credit of the Kauai visitor industry, the county’s Tourism Strategic Plan acknowledges that we are at our limit: When daily visitor counts reach 25,000, which happens often these days, “the island’s roads, parks, beaches and other infrastructure, in their current conditions, are taxed and the visitor experience and resident quality of life diminish. …” Residents and visitor industry agree: “We are at our max.”
In my previous op-ed (TGI Oct. 27,) I explained how managing resort development was key to managing visitor growth and residential growth on Kauai. When resorts are built and someone has to fill them and staff them, the growth machine is hard to stop.
The existing Kauai General Plan (2000) is a growth machine that has the potential of 5,700 more visitor units on Kauai in the next 20 years — a 66 percent increase as follows:
w Currently we have 8,600 visitor units (resorts and vacation rentals) in operation
w There are properties zoned for “Resort” on which can be built 3,700 new visitor units at Coco Palms, Princeville, Coconut Plantation, Poipu and Waimea.
w Additionally there are 3 “Resort” designations on “Agriculture” zoned land in the existing plan that would support some 2,000 more visitor units. (I am adjusting the 3,000 figure in my previous op-ed based on new information.) These are at Princeville Phase II, Nukolii and Waimea Plantation Cottages.
To most of us on Kauai, that kind of growth is scary when Kauai is already having difficulty handling what we have today.
The update of the General Plan currently before the County Council gives us an opportunity to begin to correct the problem by regaining control of resort numbers so we don’t turn into an Oahu or Maui. Limiting resort growth will help us achieve two of the overarching goals of the General Plan Update: 1. Keeping Kauai a unique and beautiful place (unlike many visitor destinations overrun by visitors), and 2. Making Kauai a sustainable place (unlike places overrun by growth).
The first step to limiting resort growth on Kauai is to remove the “Resort” designations in the current General Plan that are on lands presently zoned “Agriculture.” These approximately 2,000 units at Princeville Phase II, Nukolii and Waimea Plantation Cottages don’t presently have full approval for resort use.
I am sympathetic to Waimea Plantation Cottages because their unique style and limited number (60 cottages) have proven compatible with the community. However, when the additional 250 units sought by Waimea Plantation Cottages are added to the 250 resort units already zoned for but not yet built on Gay and Robinson land, there could be an 833 percent increase in resort rooms in Waimea at full build-out.
The Westside would do well to avoid the unintended consequences of resort development that could come to Waimea: increasing property prices (and taxes), traffic congestion, negative impacts on agriculture and most of all diminishing the Westside lifestyle. A Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, which I would support, could allow Waimea Plantation Cottages to add more units without increasing the overall number of resort units in Waimea.
(Transfer of Development Rights is a voluntary, incentive- based program that allows landowners to sell development rights from their land to a developer or other interested party who then can use these rights to increase the density of development at another designated location. Credit: Wikipedia.)
As for the 3,700 resort rooms that already have “Resort” zoning, it would be difficult to remove such zoning. Instead we should put in place laws that clearly and fairly require every development to pay for the public costs caused by that development — such as increased traffic lanes, more park space and affordable housing. Adding 3,700 more resort rooms for thousands of additional visitors will put huge burdens on the environment, roads, county services and more.
If developers don’t pay these costs, the community will bear the burden through taxes and higher fees. There will also be increased pressure to raise and use the Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT) to offset the visitor-related costs imposed on the public. To avoid higher costs to the community and the visitor industry, the developer should be required to pay impact fees upfront to cover the costs the development causes.
When faced with the true overall costs of a new resort, developers may choose to hold off until they are sure the market can bear those costs. Or, they will pay to offset the public costs of their development. This should slow down development based on true market dynamics and will deflect the costs of development from the community.
Our ultimate goal should be a land regulation system that permits only development that pays its way, is located in the proper place, and benefits the community. It would be a system that would indicate to developers early on where and what kind of development was desired and what would be required in terms of offsets. Such a system would be streamlined so that the worthy developments that pay their share of public costs and meet all requirements whiz through the permitting system, making it a “win-win” for both the developer and the community. Creating such a system should be a goal clearly stated in the General Plan Update.
Kauai is special because its residents have worked to keep it special. Come to the Special Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday in the Historic County Building. Public testimony starts at 8:30 a.m. You can also email councilmembers at CouncilTestimony@kauai.gov. A democracy is like a potluck. It works best when everyone participates in an informed way!
JoAnn Yukimura is a member of the Kauai County Council.