Hawai`i County, once one of the biggest cheerleaders for the development known as the Villages of `Aina Le`a, is over it.
In a nine-page letter dated May 16, county planning director Michael Yee informed attorney Alan Okamoto that in light of numerous violations of development conditions as well as a court order, he would begin the process of downzoning the project site, consisting of more than 1,000 acres lying between the Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway and Waikoloa Village in the Big Island district of South Kohala. Okamoto represents `Aina Le`a, Inc., and `Aina Le`a, LLC, the project developers. Yee’s letter was also sent to John Baldwin, principal of Bridge `Aina Le`a, LLC, which still holds an interest in much of the land where the development is proposed.
Yee referenced 2013 3rd Circuit Court order that determined the county had the authority to require a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project, which the county then required. In light of that, there was to be no further work done at the project site unless and until the environmental impact statement is accepted.
Yet, Yee wrote, a January 18, 2017 annual progress report by `Aina Le`a, LLC and `Aina Le`a, Inc., chairman Robert Wessels, and an August 5, 2016 site inspection by department staff confirmed that `Aina Le`a was conducting work on the properties.
“The Planning Department requires that the applicant immediately cease all work, including but not limited to ground disturbance such as trenching and grading; grubbing and stockpiling; and construction work on the subject properties. … Work shall be prohibited on the property until a final supplemental environmental impact statement [SEIS] has been accepted by the Department,” he wrote.
In December 2015, `Aina Le`a consultant James Leonard submitted a draft EIS preparation notice while Okamoto submitted an annual progress report (APR) to the county. “There were substantial discrepancies between the information contained in the SEIS preparation notice and APR,” Yee stated, prompting the Planning Department to ask for clarification. Since then, however, “staff recently confirmed with Mr. Leonard that he is no longer preparing a supplemental EIS for the property. It has been four years since the court order was issued and a supplemental EIS for this property has not yet been initiated,” Yee wrote.
Yee then went on to cite chapter and verse how `Aina Le`a has failed to comply with a dozen of the conditions of the county’s rezoning ordinance, passed in 1996.
“Based on the foregoing and pursuant to Condition AA [of the 1996 ordinance], the Director will shortly initiate rezoning of the area to its original or more appropriate designation,” he wrote. “You will be notified of the date, time, and location of the Planning Commission and County Council meetings for this matter once the agendas have been finalized.”
— Patricia Tummons