Investor website for potential luxury development in Opihihale sparks community concern

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Preliminary work has begun on a 324-acre luxury resort in Opihihale, South Kona, just north of Miloliʻi.

Community opposition is growing due to concerns that the development does not fit county plans, current zoning, or the vision of the surrounding local community.

Hawaii County Council Speaker Maile David said she was getting inquiries from constituents concerned about the proposed development.

“It just took us, took me by surprise,” David says. “When I started getting these emails saying they were going to develop Opihihale. And I was like, ‘What? Who said that?'”

The Opihihale land along the Māmalahoa Highway at milepost 93 was purchased in 2018 by Beverly Hills-based Kona Development Partners.

Hawaii County deputy planning director Jeff Darrow said the department hasn’t received any permit applications for the project.

“We know as much as you do in the sense that we learned about this project primarily through complaints,” Darrow says. “We have received a number of calls regarding a website called investinkona.com. This is a website that is asking for donations or investments in this project. Right now they are asking for donations of $100,000 or more .”

The website describes the Kona Estates at Opihihale project as a luxury real estate community comprising 60 homes and a 40-villa luxury lodge with a host of amenities, including a helipad.

“From a planning perspective, they would have to go through a change of area, and then they would also have to go through a special permit for this lodge operation,” says Darrow. “Much of the opportunity to get rezoning approval requires a unit of water for each proposed lot or unit. My understanding is that there is no county water available in this area .”

But before all that, Darrow says the developer would have to get project approvals from the county planning department, the Leeward Planning Commission, and ultimately the Hawaii County Council.

Council chair David says she’s worried the project won’t fit with the community.

“If you look at our community development plans, all of this area in the South Kona region has been identified as areas to preserve – left in agriculture and left in open space,” Darrow says. “And so that makes the application process for something like this…it’s a huge hurdle.”

Kona Development Partners did not respond to HPR’s request for comment.

Much of the information circulating in the community about this project comes from the developer’s website designed to solicit investors. Soliciting investors is nothing new for development projects of this size, but until the developer seeks county approvals, Darrow says there’s nothing to trigger the required public hearings.

“When the planning department receives an application and sets a hearing date before the leeward planning commission, at that time there will be a public hearing,” Darrow said. “Also, once the application is forwarded to the Hawaii County Council, there will be further opportunities for public hearings.”

HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi breaks down Opihihale’s proposed development

The Conversation – August 31, 2022

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