County approves master plan for Hilo mixed-use development

The Hawaii County Planning Department has approved a revised master plan for a large mixed-use development in Hilo.

Planning Director Zendo Kern said the plan submitted by Wailani Development LLC “was very consistent with the project district and all of that stuff.”

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The development, on 171.5 acres of land between Komohana and Mohouli streets, has been on the drawing board since 2009.

“Finally, after a decade-plus, we are moving ahead,” said Peter Matsuura, a Hilo orthopedic surgeon and Wailani’s president. “Now that we have the master plan approved, we are in a position to seek funding, and we have some partners who are able to help us in getting senior housing developed and getting funding.”

Plans call for up to 700 single-family and multi-family residential units. That includes: 191 affordable units, 128 reserved for seniors; 168 senior independent and assisted-living units; 208 single-family lots; and 133 multi-family units.

Also on the books is development of commercial space of not more than 420,000 square feet, with building height limits of 40 feet. Open space will be a minimum of 26 acres, including seven acres of active recreational areas.

When Wailani was last before the Windward Planning Commission in March 2019, issues such as curbs, gutters, sidewalks and a request for underground utility lines were sticking points, but have since been resolved.

“They did get some relief on the utilities, and they did get some relief on the curbs, gutters (and) sidewalks … ,” Kern said.

The project will connect to the county sewer system at Punahele and Kukuau streets.

Land-clearing activities have been ongoing for some time, and actual construction is projected to start in the first quarter of 2022 with the extension of Ponahawai Street mauka of Komohana Street.

Matsuura said the first draft of a subdivision plan has been submitted to the Planning Department and is not yet approved.

Construction, he said, will be in several phases and likely take “a decade or more.”

“My initial vision, and this was 15 years ago, is to build a medical campus where we can make Hilo a center of medical excellence for the island — and if we’re more optimistic, for the neighbor islands and the state,” he said. “It was back in the day when the news was awash with doctor shortages and everybody leaving. The initial goal was to get physicians together to make a medical campus. … We got sidetracked because the project was so big and the environment has changed quite a bit.

“But we want to get as many physicians, both primary care and specialists, together so we can provide a comprehensive health care center for Hilo and actually, for the whole island and beyond the island, as well.”

Matsuura said he’d like to attract retail businesses to the commercial spaces as well, so residents don’t have to go to downtown Hilo or the malls in the Puainako area to do all their shopping.

“It’s been really a family endeavor,” he said, and noted his late father, former state Sen. Richard Matsuura, “built the office complex that we’re in right now.”

That complex, at 670 Komohana St., is on the Hamakua makai corner of the intersection where the Ponahawai Extension would be built. Matsuura said his father “always envisioned a ‘silver city for seniors.’”

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“He always wanted to build something like that. We were standing in the parking lot, and we said, ‘Well, Dad built the first phase. We could build the second phase,’” he said. “So, more on hope and faith and prayer and everything else, we went ahead.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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