It's not every day that the Planning Commission gets to revisit — and hopefully correct — a bad decision, but that day is coming tomorrow. That's when Kealanani — the Kealia “ag subdivision” across the highway from another enclave of gentlemen's estates, Kealia Kai — is asking for an unprecedented eight-year extension.
The developer not only failed to meet the five-year deadline for completing infrastructure, it hasn't done any construction at all. Now it wants more time. I was amused to see the reason listed in the planning staff report: “The delay has been attributed to the complexity and overall size of the project.”
While the project is no doubt large — they want to develop 2,000 acres into 188 CPR lots — it's been plagued with financing problems, including one foreclosure, and has changed hands twice in the past five years.
The developer also wants to substitute its existing surety bond for the project with an $18.4 million mortgage held by the County, prompting county planners to note that foreclosure and liquidation in the event of default could cost the County “substantial amounts of time and money.”
Yes, I know it's pretty cheeky to come to the County with a “deal” like this — a deal that could be withdrawn if the developer fails to prevail in its property tax appeal. But it's not surprising, considering the developer previously managed to convince ousted Planning Director Ian Costa, the Planning Commission and the state Land Use Commission that this was a “real” ag subdivision, as opposed to the usual gentlemen's estate.
Even the New York Times took that bait, running an article on how Kealanani was “preserving Kauai's rural heritage” because landowners would be required to actually farm their farm lots. But with parcels priced from $500,000 to $3 million back in 2007, it was obvious that farmers were not the targeted market.
Now the developer is also claiming that more time is needed to complete “community improvements,” including fixing up the Kealia rodeo site and donating it to a nonprofit, building a poi mill, fixing up Kealia Store and donating a 14.7-acre lot to the county for a sports park. However, the planning staff report says there's no guarantee that such “improvements” would actually be made.
Oh, and remember how the developer claimed it would build 100 units of affordable housing? According to the staff report, “No affordable housing units are proposed either in the original or modified proposal.”
The planning department is recommending that commissions deny the request for an extension, noting in the staff report, “Given the totality of considerations, the Department believes the Developer is engaging in land banking at the cost and high risk of County taxpayers.”
Gee, ya think? Can it be that county planners are finally wising up to developers' tricks? And I just about fell out of my chair when I read this part:
“The Department believes this project runs counter to the public desire for less residential development on ag lands, and the need for affordable housing.”
Amazing. The planning department is finally listening to us, and responding appropriately. The question now is whether the planning commission will go along and do the right thing — or sucker under yet again to a land speculator's shibai.
Oh, and I just can't resist this little political tidbit..... Justin Kollar won the most beautiful barong (shirt) competition at Saturday's Kauai Filipino Women's Club Terno Ball, prompting his political opponent, Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and her entourage to walk out in disgust, and resulting in this "politics makes strange bedfellows" photo. Yes, it seems Councilmen Mel Rapozo and KipuKai Kualii — both stanch Shay supporters — were first and second runner-ups, respectively. Councilman Dickie Chang was emcee. Justin is the one with the biggest trophy.