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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Kaʻū News Briefs April 21, 2024

The plan by Black Sand Beach, LLC for Punalu‘u as published in SFGate on Sunday.

THE UPCOMING HEARING ON THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT AT PUNALU‘U DREW A STORY IN SFGATE on Sunday. The story in the San Francisco Bay area publication by Natasha Bourlin is titled Locals outraged by development at one of Hawai‘i's most famous beaches. It quotes opponents and proponents of Black Sand Beach, LLC's quest for a Special Management Permit, which comes again before the Windward Planning Commission with a second public hearing on Monday, May 6 at 9 a.m. at the County Council Chambers in Hilo. Here is the link at https://www.sfgate.com/hawaii/article/hawaii-punaluu-black-sand-beach-19410430.php. Here is the SFGate story:
    It’s one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawai‘i. On the southeast coast of the island of Hawai‘i, aka the Big Island, the Punalu‘u beach is a popular stop for visitors who want to see their first black sand beach, and it’s a regular rest stop for endangered sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals often seen basking on its shore. Soon, it may also host a 434-acre residential and commercial development called Punalu‘u Village.
    However, the community is divided on the project. Some residents and environmental advocates are opposed, while others look forward to the influx of jobs it may bring.
In 2020, Black Sand Beach LLC purchased the parcel that straddles two sides of Hawai‘i Belt Road in the Punalu‘u portion of the Ka‘ū district. The land already includes a condominium complex, a private subdivision and a boat ramp. The company also owns the land upon which the County of Hawaii Black Sand Beach Park is located. Black Sand Beach LLC told SFGATE the county pays $1 per year to lease the land for public use.
    In its proposal, Black Sand Beach LLC said it wants to rehabilitate a closed golf course, former restaurant and cultural center. And the developer wants to add 225 new residential and short-stay units, a wellness center, dining and retail establishments, a marketplace, parking facilities, a second condominium complex and a conference and educational center with cabin retreats.
    Black Sand Beach LLC said the development will not be near the shoreline or disrupt beach access. However, it was required to file for a Special Management Area permit because part of the development is in a coastal zone.
    At a public hearing on March 7, hundreds of local residents showed up to be heard either in opposition to or support of the planned development, with more than 100 written testimonies on both sides submitted to the Windward Planning Commission. After eight hours of public testimony, dozens more still needed to be heard, necessitating a future hearing. The next one is scheduled for May 6.
    “I believe that developing this area would desecrate a sacred coastline, ecologically and culturally,” Nā‘ālehu resident Dominic Riolo wrote. “Additionally, I believe that further entrenching the region and island in a tourism based economy, as this development proposes to do, undermines cultural and ecological health.”
Community members in support of the project believe the developer would help make improvements to the area, which is currently riddled with dilapidated buildings and infrastructure from the previous development, as well as provide jobs and housing for the area.

SFGate published this photo by Peter Unger of Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach on Sunday and called it one of Hawai‘i's most famous beaches. It ran a story with pro and con comments on the proposed development by Black Sand Beach, LLC.

    “I firmly believe that this project holds the potential to rejuvenate Ka‘ū, offering invaluable opportunities for its residents and fostering much-needed employment,” wrote Demetrius K. Oliveira, a lifelong resident of Pāhala.
Ka‘ū has persistently grappled with economic challenges, characterized by limited job prospects that force many to endure extensive commutes,” Oliveira continued. “The envisioned resort development serves as a beacon of hope, promising substantial job creation and economic revitalization. Beyond immediate employment benefits, it pledges to pave a brighter path for younger generations, enabling them to flourish in their hometown.”
    But many residents are concerned that the region may be adversely impacted by the creation of Punaluu Village. They believe that at bare minimum, an in-depth environmental impact survey should be conducted before further progress is made.
   Black Sand Beach LLC said the area has suffered more than three decades of neglect, leaving the infrastructure and many existing buildings left from the previous development in disrepair. Since purchasing the land, the developer asserts that it has spent over $1 million making improvements to benefit the overall community, such as by fixing existing sewer lines, potable water lines, roadways and irrigation systems.
    Many more improvements are planned, Black Sand Beach LLC said in an email to SFGATE, including firebreak roads and coordination with the county to create a broader shoreline management program for the black sand beach to manage visitors and overuse, plus additional protection for shoreline resources.
    “It’s an area that we all love and treasure. Punalu‘u is not an undeveloped green field site but a living active community that needs constant maintenance and care,” Daryn Arai, land use consultant and

representative for Black Sand Beach LLC, told SFGATE in an email. “We take our role as the stewards seriously by providing water, sewer, road system maintenance, and property management services to the Punalu‘u community. The task of maintaining these vital services is becoming more challenging in striking the delicate equilibrium between fulfilling the community’s needs and managing the associated financial burdens of these services.” Arai said the developer has consulted extensively with the local community and kupuna (elders) during the crafting of its master plan, and will be dedicating an approximately 30-acre area, including the beach, to conservation and coastal management activities.
    Amid the community’s concerns, on March 4 the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity announced it had filed a legal intervention against the developer. “Punalu‘u is celebrated for its breathtaking beauty, cultural significance and unique ecological diversity,” the nonprofit said in a news release. The nonprofit argued in the release, “Developers are relying on an outdated environmental analysis and the permit application they filed with the county fails to consider harms to the local community. Increased traffic and a surge in visitors will compromise the residents’ quality of life and exacerbate existing challenges faced by Punalu‘u’s fragile ecosystem.”
    One of the things the department looks for in proposed plans is “consistency with the 
Ka‘ū Community Development Plan (Ka‘ū CDP), and the project is generally consistent with the Ka‘ū CDP,” Zendo Kern, planning director for the County of Hawai‘i, told SFGATE in an email. “There are mixed feelings in the community on how the project could benefit the island,” he also said. “Some feel it’s important for economic growth and job opportunities close to home and others feel it will negatively impact the area and would prefer to see things remain as they are.” In October 2023, Kern conditionally approved the issuance of a Special Management Area Minor Permit for two components of Punalu‘u Village: a proposed open market complex and firebreak roads. As stated in the approval, he didn’t think the project would have significant adverse impacts. However, Kern stated that “there will be specific conditions that the applicant/owner must adhere to that mitigate cultural and environmental impacts” should the project receive approval, such as water quality plans, marine life monitoring and cultural resource management. 
       “The integrity of our community and the natural and cultural resources of 
Ka‘ū will suffer immeasurable loss from the impacts of this shallow shortsighted proposed development,” wrote Volcano resident Kalena K. Blakemore. “... What few job opportunities afforded from the project will not compensate for the damage to our sacred cultural sites, fragile ecosystems and loss for the Ka‘ū families right to traditional and cultural practices. Tourist impacts have exceeded appropriate capacity yesterday and today, therefore, why would you approve of the SMA permit for the future of tomorrow?”
    Given the amount of opposition, Punalu‘u Village may move forward at the pace of some of Punalu‘u’s marine inhabitants. Kern said three petitions have already been filed for a contested case hearing.
    “This is a sensitive project and it is important that process is followed, and we hear from the community and provide all available information for the commission to make an informed decision,” Kern said.

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