Banyan Drive Redevelopment Agency OKs draft conceptual plan

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Members of the Banyan Drive Redevelopment Agency voted Wednesday to approve a draft conceptual plan that will guide future action on the Hilo peninsula, particularly in terms of developing additional hotel capacity.

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Members of the Banyan Drive Redevelopment Agency voted Wednesday to approve a draft conceptual plan that will guide future action on the Hilo peninsula, particularly in terms of developing additional hotel capacity.

The vote came during the newly created board’s fourth regular meeting.

During the board’s September meeting, the group was presented with two versions of a conceptual plan created by the Hawaii County Planning Department. The original concept was revised following two sessions of public comment hosted during the summer.

One version of the plan presented Wednesday featured open space in the area currently occupied by buildings such as Oceanfront 21 (formerly Country Club-Hawaii) and Reeds Bay Hotel.

The second version preserved the space as a resort area. Both versions feature more park space than is currently present on the peninsula, however.

On the recommendation of board member Barry Taniguchi, the group also voted to amend the conceptual plan to change a zone designated as commercial use to be mixed-use, so it could potentially host a hotel oriented toward the business traveler market.

“I don’t know if we need to develop commercial space in the peninsula, because we have downtown Hilo,” Taniguchi said. “We have the walking trails (the Hilo Bayfront Trails project) that are coming in, we have more parking.”

In addition to the redesignated commercial space, there are three potential sites for new hotels on the peninsula. This would involve redevelopment of the old Uncle Billy’s site and Oceanfront 21 as well as a private parcel of land held by the Bender Trust.

County Planning Director Duane Kanuha said a state study analyzing useful life of the former two buildings came to the conclusions that both would need to be razed in three to seven years.

“In terms of the number of units that could go into those three sites, there’s a lot of variations,” he said.

The draft conceptual plan also shows a cultural and community center on part of the site where the Naniloa Golf Course is. Kanuha said department representatives and Mayor Billy Kenoi met with the leaseholder for the golf course just prior to the September meeting to discuss the county taking on the lease.

That plan fell through, Kanuha said.

Board chairman Brian DeLima explained that the community center could stay on the draft plan because it was conceptual and intended to provide long-term guidance.

“If we wanted to negotiate with the landowner, we would have to do that,” DeLima said. “I’m suggesting we take things step by step.”

The news that no immediate action would be taken toward the golf course was well-received by a group of residents representing Special Olympics Hawaii, who spoke during public comment. East Hawaii’s Special Olympics golf team practices on the property and hosts its annual fundraiser there.

The group had come to request that further development not take place at that site.

Others who offered comment asked the board to address the namesakes of Banyan Drive as they tackled short-term development plans.

“The majestic banyan trees have been ignored over the years,” said Donald Inouye, president of Reeds Bay Hotel. “They should become, truly, a tourist attraction.”

“I think they need to be cleaned up,” said Banyan Drive resident Patty Herdenfeldt. “It’s something that is part of our history here in Hilo.”

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The agency will next meet Jan. 25.

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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