Landowner agrees to cancel plans for condominium near Banyans surf spot

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Simmy McMichael talks about the significance of the Banyans surf spot.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today

    A surfer catches a wave Tuesday at Banyans surf spot in Kona.

KAILUA-KONA — The developer behind a proposal for a five-story condominium near the Banyans surf spot in Kona agreed to take that plan off the table.

Instead, the landowner’s representative said they plan to work toward making the 14,450-square-foot lot a public space for the community.

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“I think it’s so overwhelmingly a joy for me,” said Simmy McMichael, who, along with Keawe K.K.K. Alapai, previously was granted standing in a contested case hearing challenging the landowner’s request for more time to build the condominium on the property. The property is located makai of Alii Drive immediately to the south of The Banyan Tree.

Monday marked the second mediation session between McMichael, Alapai and the property owner, Kilohana Makai LLC, which culminated in the agreement to cancel plans for the condominium.

“We agree with the intervenors that we would like to see it become a public space,” said Bill McCowatt, representative for Kilohana Makai LLC. “And we’re going to go forward with working towards it being a public space over the next year to 15 months or so and see how we do.”

McCowatt said 15 months is about how long the owner is comfortable holding onto the property as a potential sale is worked out.

“If there were guarantees, that could change things,” he said. “The process may become much more firm over that 15 months, and if it’s solid enough, we’ll then look at an extension.”

The county could potentially buy the property via the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission, or PONC, acquisition fund.

That commission is responsible for maintaining a list of properties considered “worthy of preservation,” and the fund is supported by 2 percent of county property taxes. As of late February, the PONC acquisition fund had close to $20 million in unspent monies.

McMichael said she already submitted a suggestion form nominating the site to PONC.

Because the commission only accepts nominations through the last working day of February, that means it can’t consider the nomination of the Banyans site until next year.

McMichael said she feels positive about the site’s chances of being identified as a PONC priority.

“It meets all the criteria of what PONC represents,” she said. “And that is the open space, historical and for the general public. And it’s not only the general public, it’s for the locals — the locals that don’t need to get kicked out of areas here.”

McMichael said she also will be setting up an online petition to start collecting signatures demonstrating the community’s interest in seeing the county acquire the property.

Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, whose district includes the area of the property, said the agreement is a “phenomenal opportunity for the county to be part of a land purchase that will provide much-needed shoreline access to a very popular surf site,” adding she would support the county’s acquisition of the area “110 percent.”

McCowatt said the proposal is to sell the property for the appraised value, which would be determined as part of the process.

“It is a friendly resolution, for sure,” he said. “And we all want the same thing as far as it being public space.”

As an alternative to the PONC process, he said another possibility could involve an intermediary nonprofit group that could take the property off the owner’s hands and help facilitate transferring the site to the county.

Sitting at Banyans north of the property in question on Tuesday, McMichael spoke about the site’s significant ties to the island’s history and said the site where the condos were planned would have closed off the last bit of open space in the area.

“It’s this one piece that we can cherish and have it for the next generation,” she said, adding it’s also an indication that the community wants to preserve its open space, culture and history.

“Without it, what are we? Just another place?” she asked. “No, this place is special.”

Alapai on Tuesday called the decision a “win-win for everybody” and said he’d like to see restrooms and more parking for the area.

“It’s going to be awesome, considering it’s the number one surf spot on the island, and the parking is already strict as it is,” he said. “So it’ll be a huge boost for future generations, our community, ancestral, tourists alike.”

Others were happy to hear the news about the agreement as well.

“It’s a good thing,” said Tyson Rott on Tuesday at Banyans. “We don’t need more oceanfront development.”

Professional big wave surfer Shane Dorian, who submitted testimony about the proposal for April’s Leeward Planning Commission meeting, said by phone Tuesday that he’d love to see the area become a park, calling Banyans “one of the most-used beaches in all of Kona.”

He referenced the site’s popularity with kids after school and on weekends, saying it’s where they often learn to surf and where they socialize.

“That’s where I grew up,” he added, “so that area is just really super special to me, and I think it would be a really great space to have allocated for the public.”

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In addition to more parking and bathrooms, Dorian said he thinks a bike rack for kids would be a great addition to the site.

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.

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