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Council Planning Committee delays subdivision vote

Owners of a 4-acre North Kona parcel will have to wait a little longer before they’ll know whether the County Council will give them permission to rezone it from agriculture to urban and subdivide it into six residential lots.

The council Planning Committee on Tuesday, declaring the issue goes beyond a rezoning and subdivision of one property but encompasses the broader issue of housing shortages on the island, postponed acting on the measures, Bills 52 and 53, until Aug. 3.

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“I feel like this is maybe not a fully baked product and maybe it needs a little more time in the oven,” said Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball.

The owners, Timothy and Kay Ward of Omaha, Nebraska, said they want to build six 1,700-1,800-square-foot homes that would be rented on one-year leases for what they hope will be affordable family rentals. They couldn’t pinpoint a price range, but said they would be as affordable as they could make them, although not part of the kind of subsidized housing that’s generally how affordable housing is defined in Hawaii.

The Wards, who are currently building a home in Kailua-Kona they plan to move into early next year, said they own townhouses in Nebraska they rent out and they wanted to do something similar with single family homes in Hawaii.

“When we were there, it was apparent to us there is not a lot of affordable housing or places for rent if you needed to rent a home for a year,” Kay Ward said.

Kimball and Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas needed more reassurances that the homes would indeed be affordable for locals.

“We do have an extreme shortage of long-term rentals especially now. We are being inundated by people moving here buying homes cash sight unseen for hundreds of thousands of dollars over asking price,” Villegas said. “I appreciate your saying you are not aware or intend to build McMansions or million-dollar homes, but shacks are selling for $1.2 million in normal neighborhoods right now. So I have serious concerns about our community and the state of our housing market.”

Kimball was dubious as well.

“I’m not sure you’re aware to the extent that folks come to us with the promise of affordable housing and those promises are not kept,” Kimball said. “And I hate to be unfair or anything but I do want you to know that’s the history and so some of us come with a little bit of a lens of that history.”

“The average hardworking person here is not able to get a place in Hawaii and we need to be mindful of that,” added North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba, whose district the project is in.

Inaba asked for the postponement so the Wards could work with the community on their concerns.

The Wards had previously agreed to certain concessions suggested by the Leeward Planning Commission after several neighbors expressed concerns about traffic safety and the treatment of archaeological artifacts on the property, which is located on Hawaii Belt Road about 300 feet south of its intersection with Kaiminani Drive.

Planning consultant John Pipan, representing the Wards, said the parcel is designated for urban use by the county general plan and the Kona community development plan.

“From a land use and planning perspective, these applications make a lo of sense to me,” Pipan said. “This property is a perfect candidate for infill.”

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The Planning Department, with Director Zendo Kern recusing himself because he previously represented the Wards on their application, also recommended it be approved.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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