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Investor website for potential luxury development in Opihihale sparks community concerns

Kona Development Partners
Grading and grubbing work has begun on a portion of the proposed 324-acre luxury resort development known as The Kona Estates at Opihihale in South Kona, just north of Miloliʻi.

Preliminary work has begun on a 324-acre luxury resort development in Opihihale, South Kona, just north of Miloliʻi.

Community opposition is growing over concerns that the development doesn’t align with county plans, current zoning, or the vision of the surrounding local community.

Hawaiʻi County Council Chair Maile David says she’s been receiving inquiries from constituents concerned over the proposed development.

"It just took us, took me by surprise," David says. "When I started getting these emails saying they were going to develop Opihihale. And I said, ʻWhat? Who said so?'"

The Opihihale land along Māmalahoa Highway at mile marker 93 was bought in 2018 by Beverly Hills-based Kona Development Partners.

Jeff Darrow, deputy planning director for Hawaiʻi County, says the department has not received any permit applications for the project.

"We know as much as you do in the sense that we've been informed about this project mainly through complaints," says Darrow. "We’ve received a number of calls relating to a website called investinkona.com. It’s a website that’s asking for donations or investments in this project. Right now it’s asking for donations of $100,000 or more."

Invest In Kona website
A screenshot from investinkona.com on Aug. 31, 2022.

The website describes the Kona Estates at Opihihale project as a luxury estate community including 60 homes and a 40-villa luxury lodge with a host of amenities including a heliport.

"From a planning standpoint, they would have to go through a change of zone, and then they would also have to go through a special permit for this lodge operation," says Darrow. "A big part of being able to get approved for a rezoning requires a unit of water for each proposed lot or unit. My understanding is there is no county water available in that area."

But before any of that, Darrow says the developer would need to gain project approvals from the county Planning Department, the Leeward Planning Commission, and ultimately the Hawaiʻi County Council.

Council Chair David says she’s concerned the project doesn’t fit the community.

"If you look at our Community Development Plans, that whole area in the South Kona area has been identified as areas worth preserving — left in agriculture and left in open space," says Darrow. "And so that makes the process to apply for something like this… that’s a huge hurdle."

Kona Development Partners did not respond to HPR's request for comment.

Much of the information circulating in the community about this project is coming from the developer's website designed to solicit investors. Soliciting investors is nothing new to development projects of this size, but until the developer seeks county approvals, Darrow says there’s nothing to trigger the required public hearings.

"When the Planning Department receives an application and schedules a hearing date before the Leeward Planning Commission, at that time, there will be a public hearing," says Darrow. "Additionally, once the application goes to the Hawaiʻi County Council, there will be other opportunities for public hearings."

HPR's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi breaks down the proposed Opihihale development
The Conversation - Aug. 31, 2022

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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