‘Ag community’ proposed for South Kohala

  • The Nakahili project proposal. Courtesy image

  • Location of the Nakahili parcel. Courtesy image

KAILUA-KONA — A proposed development in South Kohala would not only create 1,158 new houses and apartments in one of the island’s fastest growing districts, it would also put agriculture at the forefront of its vision by offering local families a place to live and space to grow — in every sense of the word.

The project, called “Nakahili,” would be built on about 1,560 acres of land makai of Mamalahoa Highway close to where Waikoloa Road meets the highway. It’s being developed by Work Force Developers LLC, an arm of Brown Development.

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Greg Brown, of Brown Development, said the project will offer what he calls “attainable housing,” homes accessible to kupuna, families and young adults, as well as workforce residents while also offering them a new kind of community.

“I think because it’s different,” he said of the rationale behind making agriculture a critical piece of the project. “And I think that there’s a need for allowing these types of buyers to be able to have some land and have the opportunity to do agriculture, because they never have been before.”

The project is planned to be processed under the state’s Chapter 201H, which exempts certain developments from some zoning and development rules and laws under certain conditions.

Along with conditions related to health and safety, the law also requires that a majority of homes and apartments be affordable to households with incomes at or below 140 percent of the area median income, following affordable housing guidelines from the county’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

Sales prices and rental rates follow those guidelines, which are based on the area median income and take into consideration family size and household income. Under the 2018 guidelines, for example, those approved could get a home on a single-acre lot at Nakahili for a price starting around $258,000, based on their eligibility.

The project will include roughly 700 one-acre lots surrounded by another 150 or so larger lots ranging from 2-5 acres in size. While most will include a single-family farm dwelling, some might be sold without one so owners can build their own.

“Unlike many other West Hawaii development proposals that emphasize a resort and second-home-based marketplace, Nakahili is focused on the local market,” states the draft environmental assessment, “with a strong commitment to addressing affordability and access for primary resident households.”

Brown said under Chapter 201H, at least half of the homes must be sold to residents, ensuring at least that many homes are made available to people in the community. And while the other homes could be sold at market rates, they aren’t planned to be sold in the luxury market. Brown said if someone doesn’t qualify for the workforce homes, he still wants the other units to be similarly priced.

“We don’t want to price homes high and have them sitting around for years.” he said. “We want to move homes.”

One point that can set Nakahili apart from other workforce housing developments is the plan to accommodate demand for single-bedroom homes.

“What I heard from the workforce community was that even though there is workforce housing projects, someone like a single teacher still can’t afford a three-bedroom home in a workforce housing project,” Brown said. “So they still can’t find anywhere to live. Most developers aren’t willing to build one-bedroom homes, because then they have to sell them for that lower price.”

The designs also include plans for 300 apartments on the site, at least half of which are planned to be available at affordable rent rates by 2023, according to the draft environmental assessment. A 15-acre “village area” will include the apartments, limited retail/light industrial uses and a small wastewater treatment facility.

The plan also includes two parks: a community green and 29-acre regional park, as well as a 150-foot wide firebreak around the perimeter of the site.

Infrastructure for the community will be provided on site, according to the draft EA, including water wells and tanks.

Hawaii County Councilman Tim Richards, whose district includes the project area and who chairs the Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management, said Nakahili could be “game-changing” for families in the area, pointing to how home values in the area have skyrocketed.

According to Hawaii Information Service data, the median sales price for single family homes in South Kohala was $535,000 in the first month of this year, almost 50 percent higher than the islandwide median sales price for the month, and the median sales price for single-family homes in North Kohala was $810,000.

“With those values, we have this paradoxical situation. We have families that have been here for generations, but because the demand is so high and we have outside investment and income coming in, that prices the market up,” he said. “Which on the one hand you say ‘OK, great, we’ve got expanding value there.’ But on the other hand, people that are working in the islands, they get priced out of the market.”

For Brown, who grew up on agricultural land in Northern Maine and lives on ag land with his family in Paauilo, including agriculture in the vision for the development is crucial. Anticipating that residents might raise livestock like sheep and chickens in the neighborhood as well, he said there won’t be restrictions preventing agricultural pursuits.

“We’re hoping and we believe there will be pigs and chickens and sheep and goats and every kind of ag that there is,” he said.

Brown said there will likely also be community gardens, so apartment tenants can also get in on the ag action.

Following the environmental assessment process, Brown said, they plan to prepare and submit their 201H application, hopefully in April, to the Hawaii County Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) before going before the County Council for final approval.

“And they’ve been great to work with, the council members here in Hawaii County,” Brown said.

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He said he hopes to get onto the County Council’s agenda this summer. If passed, he said, they’ll be able to move forward with closing on the land.

The project will be developed in eight phases, Brown said. They hope to be able to break ground in November 2020 and have its first homes ready by the end of 2021.

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