Hawaii’s largest private landowner plans to develop a 150-unit bungalow-style resort and cultural center near the birthplace of King Kamehameha III on Hawaii island.

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Besides a hotel, Kamehameha Schools’ proposed development includes cultural and educational programming on 29 acres at Keauhou Bay, about six miles southeast of Kailua-Kona’s town center.

“The goal is to honor our Native Hawaiian culture,” Marissa Harman, director of asset management at Kamehameha Schools, told Civil Beat in an interview last week.

Another goal is to generate revenue and long-term economic returns for Kamehameha Schools, which operates a private educational system for Native Hawaiian students across the islands. The school’s endowment was valued at $14.7 billion in 2021.

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An aerial view of Keauhou Bay, where Kamehameha Schools wants to build a boutique resort and cultural center. Kamehameha Schools/2022

The Keauhou Bay Management Plan — a blueprint for the proposed project — was released in March and remained open for public comment until April 22. To move forward with its proposal, Kamehameha Schools needs a Special Management Area use permit from Hawaii County, among other authorizations. The organization and its consultants will spend the next few months preparing a draft environmental impact statement.

As part of the permitting process, a public scoping meeting took place on April 11. Several residents of Keauhou Bay voiced opposition to various aspects of the project. Concerns ranged from increased traffic and tourist pressure on Keauhou Bay to dismay over the proposed removal of a popular beach volleyball court near the waterfront.

“Even though you have the zoning, I still think it’s totally inappropriate,” said local resident Kathy McMillen during the meeting.

In a column published by West Hawaii Today, McMillen listed a variety of reasons why the project should be scaled back. Among them was how increased use of Keauhou Bay will affect the marine ecosystem.

“Added development stresses to this bay may reverse its health permanently. Do we really want to add to the already fragile and congested conditions with a resort only the one-percenters can afford to enjoy?” McMillen said.

Proposed changes to Keauhou Bay include improved boat trailer storage, a park and restored landscaping. Screenshot/Kamehameha Schools

Although community consultations began in 2016 with 19 stakeholder groups, the project is in its early stage and Kamehameha Schools is open to listening to community concerns and suggestions, Harman said.

“This is the start of the process,” she told participants at the meeting.

Several people expressed concern that a popular beach volleyball court near the waterfront would be removed under the current plan.

Harman said volleyball doesn’t fit with the goals and vision of the project which is to honor the area’s history and Native Hawaiian culture. Harman noted that a canoe club will be allowed to stay.

Although there are no plans to keep the volleyball court, Kamehameha Schools has reached out to local elected officials to see if another location could be found, she added.

Athletic activities dominate the shoreline at Keauhou Bay “and create a perception of exclusivity,” according to the planning document.

“The hustle and bustle of ocean commercial operations catering mainly to visitors” causes many local families, some with longstanding ties to the area, “to no longer feel welcomed – ultimately disconnecting them from the wahi pana,” or treasured place, the plan states.

Native Hawaiians consider Keauhou Bay sacred. Besides being the birthplace of Kauikeaouli, later Kamehameha III, Keauhou Bay is also home to other culturally significant spots such as Moikeha Cave, Hookuku Pond, and the former grounds of Ka Holua o Kaneaka, a once prominent holua slide built in honor of Kamehameha III.

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The Daughters of Hawaii hold a ceremony each year to pay tribute to Kauikeaouli, who would become Kamehameha III, at his birth site on his birthday at Keauhou Bay. The location of the cultural site is currently located in a congested area of the bayfront. Courtesy: Kamehameha Schools/2022

Hookuku Pond is an anchialine pool, meaning it connects to the ocean through subterranean tunnels and supports a rich array of marine life.

As the major landowner at Keauhou Bay along with the state, Kamehameha Schools says it has a responsibility to manage its lands in a way that doesn’t increase congestion or cause conflicts among those who use the bay. It also is responsible for addressing ongoing trespass, unauthorized commercial activity and other illegal activities.

People seek out Keauhou Bay for recreational, commercial and cultural experiences. Because of heavy use of the area, Kamehameha Schools says it needs to move commercial businesses away from culturally sensitive areas to relieve congestion and build new heritage and cultural centers.

It also intends to reestablish Old Kona Road — currently overgrown with vegetation — to relieve traffic snarls along the waterfront near the birthplace of Kamehameha III. Native vegetation would be planted to enhance the Hawaiian sense of place, according to the planning document.

The hotel would consist of 43 two-story, four-plex bungalows offering panoramic views of the bay and the Kona coast. Guests could enjoy an infinity pool, wellness pavilion, a food and beverage venue, meeting facilities and other amenities.

More than 2,800 people have signed an online petition that aims to “save Keauhou Bay from becoming a big crowded resort.” The petition says the area isn’t large enough to accommodate a new resort.

Harman said the hotel would be small-scale and blend in with the existing topography. The type of person who would seek out a boutique hotel in a culturally significant place will likely differ from the average tourist.

“Change is hard and I appreciate that,” Harman said. “For me what is key is managing change in a way that is appropriate.”

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