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Commission approves special use permit for proposed Island Naturals retail center

A proposed new retail center in Hilo passed its first obstacle, despite concern from one resident about a drive-thru at a planned attached restaurant.

The Windward Planning Commission discussed on Thursday a proposed 67,000-square-foot retail center to be developed by Big Island grocery chain Island Naturals. Located at the intersection of Kekuanaoa and Mililani streets, the center would include a new flagship location for Island Naturals, additional retail and office space and a restaurant with a drive-thru.

According to a presentation during the commission meeting, the center would be developed in three phases, the first of which would entail the construction of a 41,657-square-foot, two-story building that would include the Island Naturals store and office space on the second story.

The second phase would entail the construction of a 2,966-square-foot drive-thru restaurant, while the third phase would include a 23,072-square-foot, two-story building with retail spaces on the first level and more offices on the second. The site would also include 226 parking spaces.

Island Naturals founder Russell Ruderman said during the meeting that he wants to develop “a corner of Hilo that’s desirable, and nice, and an improvement to our community in every possible way.”

However, the project received some pushback from one resident concerned about the increased traffic that would be generated by the drive-thru.

“Would anyone want a drive-thru across from their home, or their bedroom window where they sleep at night?” asked Hilo resident Lisa Franklin, who said she lives very close to the proposed site. “A drive-thru, in my opinion, does not belong in a residential area. They have a reputation for being very loud and disturbing for several reasons: there’s noise from the yelling of orders over the loudspeaker, there’s idling cars that wait in continuous turnover of traffic, the hours are often open much later than regular businesses and restaurants, they create traffic congestion all over this town.”

Franklin said a drive-thru restaurant is not appropriate for the area, which has many older residents who have lived there for years, and being near Wailoa Park sees a high amount of pedestrian traffic that would be endangered by an increase in vehicle traffic.

Sidney Fuke, a planning consultant representing Island Naturals, said Franklin’s concerns were understandable, but countered that the planned drive-thru will not open onto the road directly — as they do at the perennially congested Kinoole Street McDonald’s or the Kilauea Avenue Starbucks — but within the complex itself, like the McDonald’s drive-thru at Puainako Center. As such, he said, it shouldn’t cause significant traffic congestion on the roads themselves.

Moreover, Fuke said that neighboring businesses and residents had similar concerns about the Kilauea Avenue Panda Express drive-thru when it was proposed, but those concerns were addressed during the planning phase of the project. Similarly, Fuke argued that the Island Naturals drive-thru concerns can be addressed when a formal plan is developed.

The commission agreed, voting unanimously to approve the Special Management Area use permit.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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