This is a second in a series of essays to provide information and recommendations toward shaping the future of Puna to help it prosper and become the finest place to live!
The number of homes in the above photo
surprised many of us when it was projected at the Kamehameha School
planning meeting. The aerial view of Hawaiian Paradise Park shows the Keaau-Pahoa Highway
(Highway 130) in the foreground. In the mornings, the highway is
jammed as Puna residents go to Hilo for jobs, services, and
shopping. In the late afternoon it is jammed as the Puna residents
return. GROWTH IS HERE!
The sketch to the right shows the approximate angle of the aerial photo. The yellow highlighting within the angle shows the general area of the houses. Some want to widen Highway 130. Others recommend an additional alternate road. Another solution includes creating jobs, services, and shopping in Puna. Others are anti-development!
SUBSTANDARD PRIVATE SUBDIVISIONS
Hawaiian Paradise Park is symbolic of the rapid changes taking place. This and other substandard subdivisions with private roads are struggling to resolve the problems created in the 1950's and 1960's when "worthless lava land" was divided and sold for as little as $500 per 1-acre lot. Each lot allows one residence and over 50,000 lots in Puna substandard subdivisions already exist. Some are 2-acres or 3-acres but allow just one residential structure.
Even the largest, fastest-growing Hawaiian Paradise Park is only 22% built! Imagine it fully built! Imagine if each of the one-acre lots were ever allowed to become 1/4-acre (10,000 square feet lots which are huge by Oahu standards)! Then multiply this by the large number of other subdivisions!
Many purchased because they are the most affordable lots available. If smaller improved lots were available closer to Hilo, it is likely that many would have purchased there instead of this rural area. Puna has one of the lowest family incomes in Hawaii State. Because most of the jobs, services, and shopping is in Hilo, there is a long daily commute.
As the cost of gasoline rises, there's increased demand for more mass transit. But the relatively sparsely populated area and long distances make it very costly and difficult for mass transit officials to provide acceptable service. It's almost five miles from the ocean side of Paradise Park just to get to Highway 130! It's difficult to resolve the problems as residents of Paradise Park are vocal and emotional in arguing for relief with no clear consensus of what they want.
Some want absolutely no improvements as they enjoy the rural character as it is. Being retired or not having to commute to Hilo, they favor creating villages within walking or biking distances. They do not want any of the private roads to become public roads as it will increase traffic. Others want electricity, water, paved roads and improvements that Mainland suburbs consider as basic requirements. Due to the lack of enforcement, there may be a significant number of multiple illegal structures and many structures were built without obtaining a building permit.
The published Master Plan for Hawaiian Paradise Park allows for 15th Avenue to become a single access road to be used for emergencies only with both ends gated with individuals designated by Paradise Park controlling when the gates will be opened or closed.
Obviously, no public funds can be used to connect a public road under these conditions. It would not be appropriate to provide Paradise Park an emergency alternative while also giving them the right to prevent other subdivisions from also using that emergency alternative! Some believe the intent of the master plan clause was to prevent any emergency access road. Others insist that those who wrote the master plan are a minority. But unless and until there is a clear consensus, it is difficult to resolve the problems!
BEGINNING TO DEVELOP SOLUTIONS
The problems being experienced by Hawaiian Paradise Park, Orchidland Estates, Hawaiian Acres, and the other substandard subdivisions were created in the 1950's and 1960's. It does not contribute to a solution to try to affix blame. Perhaps the government at that time was lax in mandating standards, but no more substandard private subdivisions are allowed. There is no one quick and easy solution and it will be necessary for all concerned to develop a mutually acceptable process to allow addressing all issues in the most effective manner. There is a need for "good faith" by all parties.
A POSSIBLE OVERALL GOAL: "Public policy should be established to allow the government to assist private substandard subdivisions to make improvements in a manner that is fair and respectful of the wishes of the owners within that subdivision as well as serve the public interests." Any policy or agreement must be fair to all parties. Many questions need answers.
Are the roads to remain private with the right to bar the public from free use?
Will it become a fully public road with the government receiving title to the land, be responsible for making improvements, assume the responsibility to maintain, and to accept liability?
If so, should an improvement district be required and what would be a fair share for the adjacent owners and others in the subdivision to pay?
OBJECTIVE: "To resolve an old problem and create the basis for a fair solution to benefit the entire Puna district." Regardless of whose fault it was, it is necessary to find common ground between the owners of parcels within the subdivisions and the government that represent all citizens (including the lot owners).
RECOMMENDATION: "Each subdivision association should continue to try to develop a "verifiable majority" including polling all lot owners and act on behalf of the majority while trying to address the rights and wishes of the minority."
RECOMMENDATION: "Each subdivision association should continue to develop recommendations for solutions and upon obtaining a "verifiable majority" begin discussions with their elected councilperson to work with governmental agencies to create solutions."
RECOMMENDATION: "That no government funds be used in private subdivisions unless and until there is a written agreement with the subdivision association that represents all lot owners in that subdivision."
A POSSIBLE OVERALL GOAL FOR THE FUTURE: "Once there is a successful improvement of a private road using government funds, the Hawaii County Mayor and County Council should consider creating a standing Puna Infrastructure Task Force made up of representatives of the private substandard subdivisions, Puna councilpersons, the heads of Public Works, Planning, and Research & Development, and possibly individuals to recommend and create a formal public policy for creating basic infrastructure including paved roads, water, electric, telephone, etc."
Once the County assists one subdivision, using some or all of the guidelines above, it is only fair to assist all other subdivisions. By establishing a clear transparent policy, each subdivision can decide whether they would like to accept or forego government assistance. It is only proper that each subdivision continue to maintain a choice of whether or not to stay a private substandard subdivision. It is only proper that assistance be at a prudent budgetary level indexed to the amount of property taxes collected from within each subdivision. This concept could be expanded and is applicable to all other Hawaii County districts.
OBJECTIVE: "To clarify public policy and strategy applicable to all private substandard subdivisions." By creating a uniform Countywide policy, each subdivision will be treated equally. Those in the subdivisions will become aware of the procedures and can chose to stay in those subdivisions or to sell and move to where desirable infrastructure already exist.
RECOMMENDATION: "That Hawaii County directly address the problem of the private substandard subdivisions in a "good faith manner." In doing so, they will attain the moral high ground and can require all participants to participate with a maximum amount of good faith.
RECOMMENDATION: "That Hawaii County take the initiative to establish Big Island solutions that may differ from Hawaii State standards or those of other counties." Just as Hawaii County has taken the lead in inviting public participation in long-range planning, this type of initiative should be encouraged and could result in Hawaii County setting a lower or different standard of roads. Hawaii County could take over the design, contracting, and inspection for all new roads with funds from County, State, Federal, or other sources.
RECOMMENDATION: "That Hawaii County continue towards greater usage of "home rule" principles in all possible areas." While there are good and bad points that have shown up in the Puna Community Development Plan process, it has been a positive learning experience for more people than in the past. This should be encouraged with more and more opportunities for residents to participate in the governmental process.
I first became aware of the unimproved substandard subdivisions in 1972 while living on Oahu and researching where to move. I had worked with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and the protocol for the Hawaii Burrowing Nematode Nursery Certification Program had just been accepted and approved by California. I had a crop in mind and wanted the ideal place to produce our specialty bonsai crop. We found it in Kurtistown and moved to the Big Island to become the first certified export nursery.
We're off Olaa Road which is the primary connection for the upper end of 40th Avenue in Orchidland Estates and the lowest portion of Hawaiian Acres. Initially, the members of my Central Kurtistown Kumiai were dead set against any improvements to Olaa Road as it would increase traffic. But traffic has continued to increase and as we got to know our neighbors in the subdivisions, we began to try to find solutions. We've approached several County administrations and have been able to work with members of the current administration in a very straightforward manner.
Olaa Road has only a 30' wide easement one-lane road with a 15 mph speed limit. At that posted speed limit, the road is safe. But we have a speeding problem after it was paved several years ago and there's growing support for speed plateaus once we can obtain minimum 2-lane paving. There was also a blind uphill curve and a number of near accidents. Hawaii County public works director Bruce McClure and his staff were able to design a modest cost solution that resolved the worst part of our problem. There's still a ways to go and our community is prioritizing further improvement recommendations and a future action plan.
I believe we need more of this spirit of cooperation. Our Puna district is growing so quickly that we must encourage greater citizen participation. If the locals don't participate, the solutions may not create a harmonious community. If the anti-development advocates are successful in creating a contentious poisonous atmosphere, there will be increasing polarization between the "old-timers" and the "newcomers." If that happens we all lose!
FOR THE LOVE OF HAWAII, WAKE UP HAWAII!
REQUEST FOR FEEDBACK
In the past, in creating the Puna Emergency Access Road (PEAR) that connects Pahoa Road (Highway 130) to Ainaloa to Hawaiian Acres to Volcano Highway 11, there have been a lot of controversy. There is praise for those who worked to make it possible but an equal amount of criticism that it was an improper use of government funds. There are a number of unresolved issues including questions as to who owns the land under the road, who is responsible and liable if there are accidents, and if there are ways to improve the situation. There are major flooding problems that will be costly to resolve. The road seems to be getting significant usage.
Feedback that can lead to positive results are requested. It's clear that the subdivision associations must be an increasingly larger part of future solutions. Are the possible overall goal, the objective and the recommendations fair and possible? Do you agree? Do you disagree and can provide suggestions or a better way to resolve this problem in a win-win manner? Do you have a better idea? Are there other pertinent factors not covered in the essay that can lead to an equitable solution?