Don’t forget about the residents.
That was one of the takeaway messages from a meeting Wednesday evening in Pahoa about changes Hawaii County plans to make to its public lava viewing and parking area, including a crackdown on unauthorized vendors.
Few businesses remain there at a time when the lava flow from Kilauea’s Pu‘u ‘O‘o cone is no longer viewable or accessible from Kalapana, and some of the most vocal criticism during the meeting came from nearby residents who object to another aspect of the county’s visitor management plan — relocation of the public parking area about 2.5 miles down the road.
“It’s not going to work, I’m telling you,” said a man, noting additional wear and tear on the gravel road and impacts to those who moved to the Kalapana Gardens subdivision, itself covered by lava nearly 30 years ago.
County officials told the crowd of more than 60 people that there would be enough parking for 250 cars.
Talmadge Magno, county Civil Defense administrator, said Thursday that the county is sticking with its July 1 deadline for vendors to leave or face fines. But it is pausing relocation of the parking area in order to consider concerns expressed during the meeting at the Pahoa Community Center.
“Based on what we heard last night we are going to have to rethink our strategy,” he said.
The purpose of relocating the parking, Magno said, was to keep pedestrians off the road before the subdivision. He estimates there are 50 residential structures there.
Still, some residents said they don’t like that plan because it would mean more traffic going past their homes when the lava returns to the coastline. Some suggested a private shuttle service, which also could support the local economy.
“I live right there and this is going to suck,” one woman commented.
Magno said the county considered alternatives for several months before making the plan.
He said the plan was to have the new parking area ready by July 1, the deadline for the vendors to leave.
While there’s nothing to see right now, anywhere between 300 and more than 1,000 people will pass through each day when lava is at or near the ocean.
Magno said those numbers are based on counts from private security the county pays for between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. The guards said the peak times see about 250 vehicles.
Vendors, offering anything from hot dogs to bike rentals under canopy tents, began popping up there in 2016 after lava returned to the coastal plain and entered the ocean.
The county says they’ve been illegal since they are located within the right of the way of the road, formerly part of Highway 130 and reconstructed as a gravel emergency route after being covered by lava. The county owns that portion.
If they’re still there by the deadline, vendors will be committing a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of $1,000. Fines would start smaller.
Officials at the meeting presented what the vendors will need to do become legal. But the process involves several regulatory hoops.
The area isn’t zoned for commercial use, so vendors will need to locate on private land and receive a special use permit from the county. That involves a hearing by the planning commission, which would take at least 90 days to schedule.
Then permits are needed from Public Works to erect a temporary structure which needs review by the Fire Department.
Selling food? That requires a permit from the state Department of Health.
Plans to transport customers need approval from the state Public Utilities Commission.
Kalapana resident Floyd Quihano said he would offer vendors the use of his land, though that also would require a permit if enough land had to be graded.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.