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Recent luxury eco-resort proposal near Hilo has residents questioning decades-old zoning maps

Chock's Beach Hilo shore ocean
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
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HPR
Chock's Beach near Hilo on Hawaiʻi Island

Resort zoning in the small coastal community of Keaukaha on Hawaiʻi Island is nothing new, appearing on county land use maps for the area since the 1970s. But a recent proposal for a luxury eco-resort along the shoreline has residents questioning the decades-old zoning designation. In this second part of HPR's series on the reaction to the proposed resort, here's a look at what solutions are being considered.

Resort designations have been on county land use maps for Keaukaha since the 1971 Hawaiʻi County General Plan. But County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, chair of the council’s Planning Committee, says that was a different time.

"Maybe at the time people thought this would be a good idea. But where we stand right now, it's just not fair to kind of take this natural resource from the community and capitalize on it with a resort," Kierkiewicz said.

Kierkiewicz is referring to a proposal the county rejected for a 36-unit luxury eco-resort fronting Chock’s Beach in Keaukaha, a popular spot for local families, fishermen, and surfers.

Halena Kapuni-reynolds chocks beach chalks beach
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
Halena Kapuni-Reynolds

Many residents of the Keaukaha area say they were blindsided by plans for the luxury resort on their doorstep, especially since the developer contended it held discussions with the community.

Having that resort designation on the books has galvanized residents to consider ways to preserve the area around Chock’s Beach.

Keaukaha native Halena Kapuni-Reynolds has been spearheading efforts to dig into the land-use history of the area and gauge community sentiment toward nearby resort development.

"We got about 215 respondents, from those responses we got about 90% of people saying they're against any kind of resort. How we worded the question was: Are you against an eco-resort? And so mostly everybody was against it, but we definitely had folks who are undecided because they wanted to know the benefits," Kapuni-Reynolds told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Kapuni-Reynolds says more than half of the respondents were not necessarily current Keaukaha residents, but either frequent the area or have genealogical ties to it.

Resort Node Unlabeled.jpg
Hawaiʻi County
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A screenshot of the Hawaiʻi County Land Use Maps with the resort nodes color-coded in pink.

The land fronting Chock’s isn’t the only lot zoned resort in Keaukaha. Hawaiʻi County land use maps show 69 land parcels in the area with resort zoning. This covers about 35 acres makai of Kalanianaʻole Avenue between Puhi Bay and Kamokuna Street.

County Planning Deputy Director Jeff Darrow says even with resort zoning, any development makai of Kalanianaʻole Highway comes with strict rules and regulations. Consultation with the surrounding community isn’t required, but notification of neighboring landowners is. And any proposals with costs upwards of $500,000 triggers a public hearing.

"The property is located in what's called the special management area, which is the area along the coastline that the county looks at much stricter in terms of development and use of the property. And even beyond that, it happens to be a shoreline property, which even has stricter road rules and requirements," Darrow said.

Hawaiʻi County is finalizing a draft of its 2040 General Plan, which currently includes a map with a land use designation of rural instead of resort for the Keaukaha parcel in question. Darrow could not confirm the map’s accuracy, but he says a rural designation could still allow resort development, although at a lower density – meaning fewer units.

2040 County General Plan Map.jpg
Hawaiʻi County
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Proposed 2040 County General Plan Map

Kapuni-Reynolds sees this as an opportunity for the community to get proactive about shaping Keaukaha’s future. He says one alternative being discussed for the property is to build much-needed multi-use event space. Another option is for the community to outright buy the lot.

"If the landowner is willing to sell. I mean we don’t have the money at the moment. But because of the location, I’m very confident that we will figure out how to purchase the land. One of the options on the table is the Hawaiʻi County PONC Fund. It’s a public open access fund, maybe this property can be nominated for it. Maybe we’ll fundraise on our own," Kapuni-Reynolds said.

But first, he says, the community has to meet the landowner and get everyone on the same page.

Listen and read to part one in this series from HPR's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi.

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. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has more.

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