Neglected parks, a dangerous main intersection and a single road in and out are just some of the challenges.

Waikoloa Village is one of the fastest-growing communities on the Big Island. It’s close to resorts, beaches and has its own golf course, as well as tennis and pickleball courts.

But the sun-drenched village of roughly 7,400 residents about a half-hour drive north of Kailua-Kona has its share of problems, some of which bubbled up during a recent town hall with Mayor Mitch Roth and Cabinet officials.

For starters, there’s only a single road in and out of the Kohala Coast community, a potentially dangerous situation given the area’s wildfire-prone landscape. The hills surrounding the town are also prone to flash flooding.

Waikoloa Village is facing challenges as it grows as rapidly as anywhere else in the state. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

It also has a main intersection with no traffic lights, and dusty, parched parks with broken playground equipment or none at all.

And despite Waikoloa’s growing population, the community still lacks a high school or public library. 

During a town hall in late June, many residents spoke out about what they consider the longstanding inattention or even neglect by county officials.

Mayor Mitch Roth addressed the community in a town hall meeting in Waikoloa in June, as other county officials listened. (Paula Dobbyn/Civil Beat/2023)

“We didn’t ask you for anything except to help us make a playground for our children. Now we’re in summer two with no playground for our kids to play in,” Beverly Brand told Maurice Messina, the county parks director.

Brand and other Waikoloa residents raised nearly $200,000 for playground equipment that has been sitting in a shipping container on the grounds of Puu Nui park for months. The equipment can’t be installed until the county has signed off on a design and engineering plan that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’m sorry it’s taken so long and I’m not trying to make excuses. But we also have 300 facilities through the island,” Messina said at the meeting.

Longtime Waikoloa resident Julia Alos said she was disappointed that Messina didn’t say when the park will be fixed.

Attempting to nail down a date from the county was like “trying to nail Jell-O to a tree,” Alos said in an interview.

But on a morning several days after the town hall, Messina and staffers returned to meet with residents. Gathered at a picnic table at Puu Nui park, the officials hashed out a timeline to have the playground reopen by this time next year.

Messina said he was glad residents spoke up.

“That’s the purpose of these town hall meetings: to hold the county accountable,” he said.

Another park with dried up grass and no playground equipment, called Kamakoa Nui, is also a sore point with residents. The irrigation system has been broken for years.

Kamakoa Nui Park in Waikoloa has had a broken irrigation system for years. (Paula Dobbyn/Civil Beat/2023)

Messina acknowledged that seeing the park in its current condition broke his heart, but he also had some good news for residents.

In the new county budget released on July 1, park funding grew significantly. The parks maintenance and repair budget increased to $3.9 million from $425,000, he said.

He promised that Waikoloa’s parks will be fixed, and a new dog park will be created at Kamakoa Nui.

The irrigation system there will be fixed or replaced with $1 million from the developer of a new subdivision across from park, he added.

Traffic Lights Or Roundabout?

Roads are another issue that dominates conversations in Waikoloa.

Paniolo Avenue is the only road leading in or out of the village, giving Waikoloa the feel of a giant cul-de-sac.

With multiple housing developments under construction and a new shopping center set to have a grand opening on July 22, residents are pushing for a new road that would extend Paniolo Avenue to Queen Kaahumanu highway along the coast.

A shopping center sits mostly empty as a residential development is built in Waikoloa.
The construction of a shopping center and apartments in Waikoloa has created traffic snarls and highlighted the need for a road extension to connect it to the highway. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

A road extension would not only alleviate traffic but it would provide another emergency outlet in the event of a wildfire or other natural disaster.

Public Works Director Steve Pause said the county and the developer of an 867-acre subdivision called Nana Kai that’s under construction are negotiating either extending Paniolo Avenue down to the highway or building a new mauka-to-makai road to the highway.

“We have made massive, massive progress towards that and it’s very, very close,” he said.

A troublesome multilane intersection at Waikoloa Road and Paniolo Avenue is another huge problem. It’s the main entrance to the town. But during rush hour, it can be nerve-wracking to negotiate because the intersection lacks traffic lights.

The plan there is for a roundabout, according to Pause. Traffic lights were studied, but they didn’t make the cut because of the community’s growing population.

The county is probably 12 to 18 months out from having the design and environmental studies done and being ready to go to bid, he said.

Waikoloa Village Association board member Michael Konowicz said that polling suggests homeowners are overwhelmingly against the roundabout.

“If they just went with a traffic light, it would be so much cheaper,” he said.

The intersection of Waikoloa Road and Paniolo Avenue has no traffic lights, but the county plans to add a roundabout there to better handle traffic flow. (Paula Dobbyn/Civil Beat/2023)

Waikoloa’s issues are growing more visible as new housing projects are popping up.

Tenants at Waikoloa Family Affordable, a complex of 110 one- and two-bedroom, low-income apartments located at Makana Kai Drive, recently began moving in and construction of Kaiaulu O Waikoloa, a 60-apartment, low-income complex, was completed last fall.

Na Hale Makoa, a group of 140 apartments for low-income residents, is slated for early 2024 and next year a new loop road in the Kamakoa Nui subdivision will open up the development of nearly 700 housing units, according to the county.

Given these construction projects, relief for Waikoloa’s longstanding issues can’t come soon enough for some residents.

“We are not impatient whiners. We, as a community, have actively tried to address issues and advocate for our needs,” Julia Alos said.

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