Monday, November 22, 2010


WITH A BANG, NOT A WHIMPER: The future begins this week on Kaua`i and it has little to do with the new council’s makeup or leadership, which will be determined today according to a “notice” that appears nowhere but on the wall at the temporary council chambers.

But it all may be just business as usual if none of the people who claim to care about land use show up and force these upcoming changes to be positive ones.

As we said Friday, with Planning Director Ian Costa being told not to let the door hit him on the ass on his way out at tomorrow’s planning commission meeting, there is a once-in-a-decade chance to convince the commission to conduct an open process- one devoid of administration interference- in their search for a new director... one who understands controlled growth principles and is attenuated to rural- as opposed to urban- planning.

Too often when we hear “smart growth” mentioned on Kaua`i these days it is linked to California-style “walking communities” as an answer to suburban sprawl and other concepts that don’t really fit the truly rural nature of Kaua`i- a character that a vast majority of island residents say they want to protect.

The term “smart growth” is really rooted in a process of true citizen directed growth where an open process first determines whether a certain type of growth is currently appropriate and then considers where that growth should go. Then, rather than let developers who have money determine which areas will be used for growth and allow them to submit plans for rubberstamping, they compete for the right to develop the pre-citizen-determined locations, also through an open process.

We need a planning director who understands this process, especially since the first thing he or she will be doing will be to start a new charter-mandated General Plan Update process, since 10 years have passed since the last one was completed in December of 2000.

Actually, that may be the second thing the new planning director will be doing because the petition created charter amendment passed in 2008- the one that links the actual number of planning commission approved visitor accommodation units to specific growth standards set in the general plan- has finally been given form and substance in a bill set for introduction at Wednesday’s lame duck council meeting.

That means it will be going to the planning commission for analysis and approval and then returned to the council for first reading, hopefully within 60 days.

Bill 2386 (scroll down to page 40) sets up a standard for “Transient Accommodation Units” and proposes a one-and-a-half percent (1½ %) per-year growth rate with a lottery each year to determine who gets those rights to build them.

It also calls for a four-year time limit for “commenc(ing) actual construction of 20%” with one year extensions available “upon a showing of good cause by the (transient accommodation unit) certificate holder”.

The commission can also use a five-year “average of growth rate” of the one-and-a-half percent if the planning commission decides to do so upon recommendation of the planning department.

One of the provisions that may raise eyebrows is that only 10% of the certificates are reserved for developments of five units or less while the other 90% are reserved for those of six or more. This give preference to large resorts and hotels rather than “mom and pop” operations including potentially single-family vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts in designated visitor destination areas.

There are also exemptions for existing resorts and those who started the process- or were approved- before December 5, 2008 (when the charter amendment took effect), provided they file for one within a year of the effective date of the ordinance.

And we all remember how well it worked- or more precisely, didn’t work- the last time the planning department was given a year to certify past use of transient visitor accommodations.

The bill leaves an awful lot of discretion to the planning commission and department in areas where it could make the ordinance a joke, especially a lot of those pesky “may” instead of “shall” do such-and-such phrases.

And the “five year average” could turn into just what many feared- a free for all for well connected developers who get their ducks in a row early on. Perhaps a small percentage of deviation from the one-and-a-half percent rate would be appropriate.

There is a chance for public input at Wednesday’s council meeting for the bill, as well as at Tuesday’s planning commission meeting for the opening of the planning director’s job.

It’s now or never for all those who like to kvetch and moan about unfettered growth and those who worked so hard to get the amendment on the ballot in 2008.

As usual, the spoils will go to those who show up and you can bet those who stand to make a buck off these two decisions will be there.


Update: It only took us an hour to find the new page for the Kaua`i County Charter. If you want to “bookmark” the page you need to go to the Public Documents page and right click and then click the appropriate line for your browser (“add to Favorites” for Internet Exploder).

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