A contentious proposal for a housing development in Pu‘ueo has halted after developers withdrew rezoning applications Tuesday.
The Tuesday meeting of the Hawaii County Council Planning Committee was scheduled to address two motions that would reclassify 39 acres in Pu‘ueo from agricultural to urban in preparation for a 49-lot residential development.
However, at the start of the meeting Puna council member Ashley Kierkiewicz presented a letter from the applicant, the Edmund C. Olson Trust, stating the applications would be withdrawn from consideration.
Although no representative of the Olson Trust attended the Tuesday meeting to explain the trust’s motivations for withdrawing the applications — and none could be reached for comment — members of the Planning Committee discussed the apparent cancellation of the project.
“I gotta say that I’m disturbed and bothered by the fact that this is being withdrawn,” said Councilman Tim Richards of Kohala. “We have a terrible housing shortage in our county, we’re needing 25,000 more homes by 2025, and this is a small step but it was a step towards that.”
Hilo and Hamakua council member Valerie Poindexter said she respects the Olson Trust for its apparent decision to work closely with the community to assuage concerns about damage to historic monuments.
Although the housing project was only announced earlier this year, the Olson Trust’s actions on the site generated controversy after an incident in 2016, when the trust had trees on the property cleared and inadvertently damaged headstones in an adjacent plantation camp cemetery.
The Olson Trust agreed to pay the state Department of Land and Natural Resources a fine of $54,960 for the damage earlier this year.
Council Chairman Aaron Chung said the council, the Trust and the community were close to working out an amenable arrangement for the project, but a continual focus on “red herrings” such as the cemetery issue doomed the project.
“I did ask some people (at a previous community meeting) … ‘How many people know people buried in that cemetery?’ Nobody raised their hands,” Chung said. “‘How many people knew of that cemetery before this whole thing came up?’ Zero.”
The Windward Planning Commission previously issued a favorable recommendation for the rezoning applications.
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