Concerns over axed eco-resort at Hilo beach spark community engagement discussions
Plans have been axed for a proposed 36-unit luxury eco-resort fronting a popular Hilo beach on Hawaiʻi Island. Concerns over shoreline development near Chock’s Beach in Keaukaha are prompting discussions by residents in this small coastal community.
The lava rock shoreline has been popular with local families, fishermen, and surfers for generations. Keaukaha native Halena Kapuni-Reynolds says local keiki often learn to swim here.
"It’s one of the few spots along the coastline with this cute jumping-off point and also where the saltwater makes it warm enough for folks to swim. Our waters are very famous for being icy cold," Kapuni-Reynolds said.
Kapuni-Reynolds’ family has lived just mauka of there in the Hawaiian homestead community of Keaukaha since the 1940s. Just last month, he came across plans posted online for a 36-unit luxury eco-resort fronting the jumping rock at Chock’s.
This caused confusion and concern among area residents, many of whom were unaware such a project was being considered. Moreover, the filing contended the owner had engaged the community in discussions.
The plans have since been taken down, but county planning records show the California-based landowner filed a Special Management Area permit application for the project in July 2020.
Hawaiʻi County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, chair of the council’s Planning Committee, says the county returned the application two weeks later with clear questions.
"Planning wanted more clarification around the status of an environmental assessment connection to sewer, as well as just to better understand when they said they engaged the community," she said. "What did that mean? It has to be more than just checking a box and understanding where the really meaningful dialogue had happened and how community manaʻo may have changed the vision for the development."
It is still unclear what, if any, community engagement occurred.
The landowner officially rescinded the application with the county earlier this month, according to newly-hired consultants for the landowner, Bobby Hall and Tamar Defries of Pacific Growth Associates.
"So officially there's nothing with the Hawaiʻi County Planning Office for that property and Tamar and I are ready to begin community discussions to help determine or shape a potential project for that area," Hall said. "What’s going to come about? What gets built? I think that's where the community discussions help determine. The owner is very supportive of making sure their vision matches with the community's vision."
The entire process helped breed distrust in a community that has historically been left out of conversations about development in the area.
Keaukaha is home to some of the best beaches in town, but it also bears the brunt of Hilo's infrastructure, from the nearby airport runways to the town’s only sewage treatment plant, the adjacent industrial area and busy shipping port.
"There’s reasons why our community acts in this way because the process isn’t made transparent," Kapuni-Reynolds told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "This is an opportunity for us to encourage folks to really participate more in community work and caring for these places and not just taking them for granted as they'll always be here."
Kapuni-Reynolds says webinars on land use laws and zoning regulations are planned and an online survey is circulating to gauge community manaʻo on resort development near Chock’s.
HPR took a closer look at the decades-old history of resort zoning in Keaukaha, and heard preliminary results from the online community survey. Click here to read and listen to part two from HPR's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi.