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Proposed Kona Vistas project to go before Land Use Commission

KAILUA-KONA, Hawai‘i — A proposed Kona development, which has spent decades in planning and is vehemently opposed by neighboring communities, will be in front of the state Land Use Commission to address questions related to the project on Feb. 7.

The proposed 450-unit Kona Vistas multiple-family housing project planned mauka of Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway, between Kona Vistas and Pualani Estates subdivisions, includes 174 two- and three-bedroom rental units with a manager’s unit in two-story units and an additional 274 two- and three-bedroom for-sale units in clusters of two- and three-story buildings, also with a manager’s unit.

In addition there would be two community centers with a park, swimming pool and facilities for use by residents — one for the owner unit residents and one for the rental unit residents.

Developers KV3 LLC and Kona Three LLC purchased the 69-acre parcel and remaining lots in Phase I in 2015 from the previous developer Gamrex, who began the development in 1984 and built the 103-acre, 215 lot Kona Vistas subdivision, with plans to develop Phase II multifamily units based on approved permits and zoning changes.

The new developer set out to restart the project, but has hit many roadblocks along the way including having little to no support from surrounding communities.

Kona Vistas LLC is required to submit an annual report yearly to the LUC on any updates and progress made on the project. The 2022 report, due Dec. 13, 2023, was dated Dec. 28 and was received stamped by the LUC on Aug. 30, 2023. It outlined the history of the project along with scope of work completed and agency approvals received.

The LUC issued a letter to Kona Three in November 2023 notifying the developer of questions the board had regarding the report, and status of compliance and conditions, setting the meeting for February.

The state particularly has questions related to affordable housing requirements regarding the agreement with the County of Hawai‘i Office of Housing and Community Development.

According to the annual report, Kona Three “came to an agreement to pay for about 10 acres of land zoned RM-3.5 above Lowes so it could be conveyed to an affordable housing developer and be developed into 100 affordable housing rentals.”

The agreement required 67 affordable housing credits from the developer to fulfill the obligations for both the existing single-family lots in Kona Vista plus the to-be-built 450 multi-family units. Affordable housing credits were never fulfilled by Gamrex, the original developer of Kona Vistas.

However, Kona Three stated the planning department and corporation counsel approached them with a legal position that the agreement reached with OHCD couldn’t be used to fulfill the affordable housing obligation.

Corporation counsel opined that the language used in the original conditions set forth for the project requires that the affordable housing fulfillment must be developed on-site.

“By offering for sale, on a preferential basis, on its own or in cooperation with either or both the Hawai‘i Housing Authority or the County of Hawai‘i, 10 percent of the lots or house and lots to be developed on the subject property, to residents of the State of Hawai‘i of low and moderate family income as determined by the Hawai‘i Housing Authority or County of Hawai‘i from time to time,” the condition reads.

The LUC is also questioning the number of affordable credits set based on both the existing single family lots and proposed 450 multifamily units, and where they will be located.

But the project has more than LUC hurdles to overcome before the project has a chance of moving forward.

At the county level, Kona Three has been seeking a time extension for completion of the project. In December 2022, the developers requested a 10-year extension to complete the project from the Leeward Planning Commission.

The commission turned to the Hawai‘i County Cultural Resources Commission after extensive criticism by neighbors of the project, who contended the 69-acre parcel contains cultural sites, burial sites and habitats for endangered indigenous birds, such as the ‘io and pueo.

The Cultural Resources Commission voted to recommend the site be preserved in perpetuity or, if that is not feasible, that further documentation be made of the cultural history of the area in order for it to be integrated into the project’s design. The panel also recommended that the development plan be modified to include larger open space areas to better protect the sensitive sites.

That recommendation had been scheduled to be presented to the Leeward Planning Commission, however the commission has canceled the last five meetings and has not met since August 2023. The next scheduled meeting is set for Feb. 15, however an agenda has not yet been posted.

The state Land Use Commission meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the West Hawai‘i Civic Center Building G.

Oral testimony may be given in-person at the meeting. Written testimony must be presented at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. Written testimony may be submitted either online at: luc.hawaii.gov/testimony, by fax at 808-587-3827, email: dbedt.luc.web@hawaii.gov, or by mail at State Land Use Commission, P.O. Box 2359, Honolulu, HI, 96814-2359.

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Reporter Laura Ruminski can be reached at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com
Source: The Garden Island

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