Revised Kukuihaele park plan presented

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After more than a year of neighborhood contention regarding construction of a park in Kukuihaele, county planners presented a new and largely well-received proposal for the 4-acre space Tuesday night.

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After more than a year of neighborhood contention regarding construction of a park in Kukuihaele, county planners presented a new and largely well-received proposal for the 4-acre space Tuesday night.

More than 80 people attended a community meeting in the Honokaa High School cafeteria, where Hawaii County Parks and Recreation personnel presented conceptual plans for a revised park design.

Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, who represents Kukuihaele, also attended the meeting.

“We are trying our very best to work with you … coming together to make a park that you will enjoy,” Kim said. “Nobody here is going to get everything they want, and I know that. We’ve made some mistakes; I know that. There’s no need to draw it out.”

As originally planned, the park would have featured a Little League baseball diamond, dugouts and an 18-foot-high chain-link fence backstop. Other features included a walking path, a basketball court, parking stalls, a pavilion and a restroom building.

Some in the small community did not support the plan, however, saying the neighborhood could not support additional traffic that would come from regular baseball games and that the park was intended to serve Hilo and Honokaa, not Kukuihaele itself.

Last April, after a $5 million contract — twice the original planned cost — was awarded to Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd., the Kukuihaele Neighborhood Association and five individual plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction against the county Parks and Recreation Department, its director and then-Mayor Billy Kenoi. The injunction was denied by Judge Greg Nakamura.

Construction began in August. So far, a retaining wall has been built on one side of the park. The restroom building and pavilion are in progress.

Work was delayed because of heavy rain in December, and the contractor was asked to refrain from any other improvements until after Tuesday’s meeting, said parks planner James Komata.

Tuesday’s community meeting was the first to be hosted under the new Kim administration.

It also was the first time the public had seen the revised plan, new Parks and Rec director Charmaine Kamaka told the Tribune-Herald.

The revisions eliminate the baseball diamond and dugouts in favor of a flat lawn that can be used for sports and community gatherings. The 18-foot fence also was taken off the table, but a lower chain-link fence ranging from 4-6 six feet tall will still be installed. That fence will be painted dark green so it blends in more with its surroundings.

Komata said the new park also will feature more landscaping, shade trees and picnic tables.

A children’s playground also is set to be added to the overall plans.

“In the previous meeting we heard from the community that there was a lot of support for a playground,” Komata said.

A final cost for the park revisions is not yet known because the plan is still in its conceptual phases. However, Komata said he expected the addition of the playground to slightly increase the total cost.

Most in attendance applauded after Komata finished his presentation, with one man calling the meeting a “Kukuihaele kumbaya.”

But some people objected to the removal of the baseball diamond, saying their children did not have a place to practice properly (there was a ball field as well as a restroom building years ago at the site, but both were razed when the county took over the property).

“You can still play baseball in the park,” Kamaka said. “You can play different types of sports in the field: it’s a baseball field, it’s a soccer field, it’s a football field.”

Komata said that even in Hilo, baseball and softball practice space was difficult to find, and teams took advantage of “any open, flat area.”

“The decision has to be made for what is best for the whole,” Kim said. “Once you make a baseball field, it becomes a baseball field…you can’t play soccer there, you can’t play things that will damage the diamond.”

He said he would take responsibility for eliminating the ball field.

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“The decision was made (after) careful consideration and talking to everyone,” he said. “The park is not worth the polarizing in the community.”

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

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