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Legislation calling for the county to temporarily close road into Leilani Estates fails

A resolution to temporarily close one of only two roads into Leilani Estates failed to pass a County Council committee Monday after dozens of Leilani residents voiced support for and opposition to the bill.

Resolution 748 would have authorized the county to temporarily close Leilani Avenue to all traffic save residents for an indeterminate length of time in order to limit invasive tourism as the community rebuilds after the Kilauea eruption.

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More than 20 residents testified during a Monday meeting of the Committee on Public Works and Parks and Recreation.

The majority of testifiers opposed the resolution on matters of principle: numerous residents argued that the resolution threatened to turn the subdivision into a gated community, which one testifier decried as “the antithesis of the spirit of aloha.” Some testifiers suggested the resolution was a ploy by the Leilani Community Association to increase property values for the subdivision.

Others voiced more pragmatic concerns.

Some argued that barricading one of only two points of entry into the subdivision would hamper emergency responders needing to quickly enter the neighborhood. Others pointed out that because the presence of police checkpoints outside the subdivision have not limited trespassers, looters and squatters since the eruption, closing the road would be unlikely to do any better.

However, several testifiers came out in support of the resolution.

James Tucker, secretary of the Leilani Community Association, said lava sightseers already are rampant in the area and are unlikely to stop without county regulation. One resident described the presence of the lava as “an attractive nuisance” that was guaranteed to attract onlookers from around the world eager to see and walk on lava regardless of residents’ privacy.

Leilani Community Association president Jay Turkovsky also testified in support of the resolution and clarified the intention of the association.

“The LCA runs democratically,” Turkovsky said. “The board isn’t on some power trip, we’re just trying to do what’s right for the majority.”

Turkovsky explained that Leilani Estates is divided into two sections: Section 1, a small unincorporated area not part of the association consisting of about 75 homes located the farthest possible distance from the lava; and the greater part of the subdivision, Section 2, with more than 2,000 lots.

The majority of those in opposition to the resolution, Turkovsky pointed out, do not live close to the lava and are not directly affected by tourists, while Section 2 residents are more affected and are broadly in support of the resolution.

Lawyer Michael Garbarino, who filed a lawsuit against the county on behalf of the association seeking an injunction to force the county to maintain the security checkpoint, said the goal of the resolution is unrelated to fears of a “gated community” and argued that the county has no reason to keep Leilani Avenue publicly accessible, seeing as the road now only connects to private roads after being severed by lava.

However, all seven committee members voted against the resolution, including Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, who introduced it.

What ultimately doomed the resolution was county Corporation Counsel Joseph Kamelamela, who said he did not think the situation meets any of the requirements the county needs to close a road.

Kamelamela said the road arguably is not a terminus — the road does not end, it is merely impeded — and that a barricade at the entrance to the subdivision will impede traffic flow. Nor, he said, is there evidence that adjacent landowners were given written notice of the possibility of a closure.

Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said she did not want to embroil the County Council in a “neighbor war,” and said the council should “stay Switzerland,” particularly considering the pending lawsuit against the county.

Before voting against her own resolution, O’Hara advised the committee that “illegal tourism” is rampant in lower Puna, with visitors clearly violating the county’s injunction against traversing lava.

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O’Hara said that the creation of a lava viewing area, a much-discussed potential project since before the end of the eruption, would “take the stress off” many Puna communities.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.