LIHU‘E — As the County of Kaua‘i Housing Agency works to obtain land use and environmental approvals for a new affordable housing development on the island’s westside, the agency is asking members of the public to weigh in on plans for the future project.
The county purchased the 417-acre property between Waimea and Kekaha, known as The Waimea 400, in 2019. A 60-acre portion of the westside parcel, located near Waimea Canyon Middle School, is planned to be used for affordable housing.
The project aims to be “a much-needed benefit to the Waimea community,” housing agency director Adam Roversi said in a recent interview with The Garden Island, adding it would help address the island’s affordable housing crisis.
Roversi was unable to estimate when the project could be expected to be completed, stating it was too early in the process. The county still needs to receive land use approval, and permits, and undergo environmental reviews before even beginning construction plans or engineering designs, he said.
Amid the entitlement process, the housing agency announced last week it was asking the community to complete a Waimea 400 community survey to help determine plans for the development.
The public input is meant to help the housing agency “seek the entitlements and permits that align with the community’s vision for the project,” according to Roversi.
The county first announced a “Waimea 400 Conceptual Master Plan” in January 2022, which included input from two 2021 community meetings. In addition to affordable housing, the plan included the construction of a sports complex, community gardens and walking paths.
However, the plan “wasn’t specific enough to work on concrete development plans,” Roversi said.
“So what we’re doing is trying to hone the community’s original vision, broad vision, for the 400 acres, to come up with a specific and detailed plan for the portion of the property that was designated for housing.”
Roversi said entitlement approvals could be completed by January 2025 “if everything goes relatively quickly, and we don’t end up in litigation or being sued by someone or have contested case hearings, or interventions.”
If that process goes smoothly, Roversi hopes actual homes will be able to start being built on the land in January 2026.
“It’s another year to just install all of the infrastructure that’s necessary, and that’s before you’ve built a single house. So roads, water and sewer electric, and telecommunications, all have to be installed,” he said.
The 2022 master plan states the “entire parcel is classified as federal wetlands,” according to the National Wetlands Inventory’s 2019 data, which means an environmental review will be needed under both state and federal law to test for possible drainage and flooding issues.
Roversi said the agency “does not intend to build in a wetland” and is looking to change that classification for the parcel, claiming the 2019 data is based on a historical study that is around 50 years old.
“I can’t cite the specific study for this area but understand from our environmental consultants that it is old and/or inaccurate,” he said in a follow-up message. “Thus we are going through the process of updating the map with the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The master plan also states over half of the site is at risk of flooding, as it has been labeled “a special flood hazard area.”
“The Waimea 400 site could be significantly impacted by (sea level rise),” the document states.
Roversi said all housing will be built outside of flood zones.
“The area designated for housing is on the highest portion of the property, outside of any flood zone or concern,” Roversi said. “As a rule, we never build housing projects on any land prone to flooding.”
The 417-acre parcel is also the site of the Waimea wastewater treatment facility, as well as an asphalt base yard, and an alfalfa farm, according to the plan.
The total cost of the project is not yet known, according to Roversi, who said it will depend on the feedback the agency receives from the community.
“Once that community planning process is finished, we’ll have a better idea of specifically what we’re trying to build, we would be in a better position to have estimated pricing,” he said, noting the number and size of the units planned to be built have not been decided.
“But at this point, I’d just be giving you a meaningless guess.”
Roversi hopes that Waimea residents take the time to fill out the county survey, saying his goal is to develop a plan that achieves the community’s vision for the project.
“We’re not aiming to have a top-down vision imposed on the community if it’s not what they want,” he said.