Keaau development plan allowed to proceed

  • Image credit: W.H. Shipman. The proposed site of the project in Keaau. The first phase of construction would add residential lots to the parcels labeled 1A and 1B, while also building a commercial center at 1C and a wastewater treatment plant at 1D.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Kawailani Kaleohano runs up a hill from the baseball field at Shipman Park in Keaau on Friday. The land behind the baseball field would be used for a commercial center, according to a project being developed by W.H. Shipman.

A nearly $100 million plan to substantially increase development in Keaau over 10 to 15 years came one step closer to reality last week.

The Office of Environmental Quality Control within the state Department of Health published on Wednesday its final environmental assessment of a master plan by landowner W. H. Shipman to add nearly 1,000 residential units and commercial development to vacant lands in and around Keaau.

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The project was assessed to have no significant environmental impact, allowing it to proceed.

The project proposes to infill vacant lands in Keaau with a mix of single-family and multi-family residential units, creating a “walkable, transit-friendly regional town center concept.”

Significantly, the proposal could add 940 residential units over 10 to 15 years, which could more than double Keaau’s population. According to the environmental assessment, Keaau in 2017 had a population of 2,416, comprising 745 households.

The project would be split between two major phases, which are expected to take 10 to 20 years to complete in total. The first phase would itself consist of the development of 121.7 acres in Keaau, divided between four parcels of land, two of which are located immediately north of the Keaau elementary and high schools — those parcels would be developed for mixed commercial and residential uses, while extending pedestrian and bike infrastructure as well as neighborhood parks to connect existing parts of the town.

The third parcel of phase one is a smaller area north and west of Highway 11 next to Herbert C. Shipman Park and would be the intended site of a regional commercial center, while the final, smallest parcel would be the site of a wastewater treatment plant on the Keaau-Pahoa Bypass Road.

The second phase would infill 136.6 more acres of vacant land throughout the village with additional residential units. The first phase is estimated to include 37.5 acres of commercial-use land — 15 of which would be within the planned commercial center — while the second is only anticipated to consist of 1.5 acres of commercial land.

Both phases would add approximately 470 new residential units.

The project is estimated to cost a total of $92,494,126.25, approximately $40 million of which would go to the first phase.

W.H. Shipman president Peggy Farias wrote via email to the Tribune-Herald that that estimate could be subject to change between now and when construction begins.

Although the assessment is complete, the start of construction might still be a long way away. Farias noted that the project still needs to go through rezoning, subdivision and permitting processes, which collectively could take several years to complete.

The next immediate step will be the preparation of a rezoning application for the parcels in phase one, which W.H. Shipman is in the process of drafting.

The final environmental assessment is largely unchanged from a draft environmental assessment completed by the Office of Environmental Quality Control in 2018. Neither review anticipated that the project will have significant impacts to groundwater or storm runoff, nor will it impact any threatened or endangered flora or fauna.

According to the assessment, a traffic impact report conducted for the area projected that surrounding infrastructure will continue to operate at “acceptable levels of service” if the project goes forward, so long as mitigation measures are implemented.

Some of those measures include the extension of Kikania Street to connect between Keaau-Pahoa Road and the Keaau-Pahoa Bypass Road, construction of a connector road between Keaau-Pahoa Road and Highway 11, and, eventually, adding additional traffic and turn lanes to Keaau-Pahoa Road and Highway 11.

The project also would construct an additional well and water tank toward the south of town to accommodate the project’s increased water demands.

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The assessment went on to predict that the project is anticipated to “enhance opportunities for economic development by redeveloping and expanding Keaau Village, and to provide affordable housing for a diversity of households including renters, first-time homebuyers, and seniors.”

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

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