KAPAA — The state Land Use Commission on Tuesday approved the final environmental impact statement for a petition to rezone 97 acres in Kapaa for urban use, making way for a proposed residential development.
That doesn’t mean there will necessarily be a zoning change or land use district boundary amendment for the area near Kapaa Middle School, where developers plan to build a 769-unit subdivision known as HoKua Place.
An environmental impact statement, or EIS, is just one of many steps developers must take to prove to state and county officials that a zoning change and the project would fit within the law and existing long-term priorities for the land established in documents like the Kauai General Plan.
Kauai County Planning Director Jodi Higuchi highlighted the importance of this particular EIS on Tuesday, pointing out that the East Kauai Development Plan is so outdated — the latest version is from the 1970s — the EIS would actually be the guiding document for the project.
Five of the six state land use commissioners voted to approve the EIS at Tuesday’s meeting, with Commissioner Gary Okuda dissenting. Okuda’s main objection was with the EIS and its lack of information, rather than the overall project,
“This is not an attack on the petitioner. This is a need for us to have enough information to make a reasonable decision,” Okuda said. “This EIS does not provide enough information for us to make a reasoned choice between alternatives.”
An EIS document usually provides a list of alternatives to the project or activity proposed. One of those is usually a “no action” option, describing what would happen should the project not take place. According to Okuda, the HoKua Place Project’s EIS was lacking in depth in both areas.
“Maybe this is the best place for this, but none of this was discussed in the EIS,” Okuda said.
Commissioner Arnold Wong said the document “checks all the boxes,” but gave the EIS a less than enthusiastic review.
“In school, a D is still passing, and I’d give this EIS a C- or a D,” he said. “They may not be the best checks, but they did check the boxes.”
Barely so, according to the commissioners, all of whom prefaced their votes with speeches, saying they had many reservations.
William Yuen, an attorney for HoKua Place who presented the EIS to the land use commission, argued that it’s not within the requirements of an EIS to study areas outside the proposed project, that the EIS meets all the standards and requirements.
“The efforts to address community concerns are minimal at best,” said Commission Chair Jonathan Likeke Scheuer, addressing concerns voiced by two citizens at the meeting and dozens of emails from Kauai residents asking how the project will impact traffic, water quality and consumption, solid waste and schools.
“It is a low bar and you’ve met it,” Scheuer said. “That’s not where you want to be when you come back before us.”
Gabriela Taylor and Noreen Dougherty were the two who testified at the hearing, speaking out against the HoKua Place project and the EIS.
“Surely the changes that would be necessary to create HoKua Place would cause great hardship on the citizens and Kauai,” Dougherty said, urging the commissioners to reject the document. “The town of Kapaa cannot expand. To the east, we are right on the ocean, and the waters are rising. To the west, we have a mountain, and the only way to get to town is along the Wailua River.”
Kapahi resident Barbara Guiliano sat through the first half of the meeting holding a sign that said: “Too Many Cars.”
“My sign says it all,” she said during a break. “My only complaint is the traffic. I drive through the ‘Kapaa Crawl’ every day. We can’t handle any more traffic.”
Yuen pointed out there are many steps and requirements that need to be met before HoKua Place is finalized. Most likely new traffic studies will be required. Along with those studies could come requirements to help with infrastructure upgrades.
Other than brief statements about how the project would fit into the county’s general plan, County of Kauai representatives didn’t have much to say about the EIS or the project at the meeting, particularly when it came to weighing in on whether the document was acceptable. Planning Department officials didn’t have “specific opinions” on several questions, a point commissioners brought up later in the meeting.
“County is not going to take a position on accessibility at this time,” a county representative said when the commission asked whether the EIS was approvable.
Later in the meeting, Giovanni brought it back up, saying: “It’s discouraging that the representation for County of Kauai had no comment on the record.”
Commissioner Edmund Aczon touched on the subject as well. Coming from Oahu, he said he didn’t have a strong familiarity with Kauai and was relying on “insight from the county” to help guide his understanding of how the zoning change and project would affect the island.
With the final EIS now approved by the state Land Use Commission, the next step for HoKua Place is the zoning change or land use district boundary amendment hearing before the same commission. The date for that meeting will be announced.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org