A Windward Oahu cemetery whose plans to develop 56.5 acres of conservation land were denied by the state is now trying for a green light from the city.
Hawaiian Memorial Life Plan Ltd., owner of Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery, is proposing to amend the city’s Koolaupoko Sustainable Communities Plan to allow cemeteries to be developed on land designated for preservation.
The cemetery wants to develop the acreage as part of a 30,000-grave expansion project.
In November, the state Land Use Commission by a 7-0 vote denied Hawaiian Memorial’s request to reclassify 56.5 acres of its land from conservation to urban use, which would have allowed the expansion.
"I think their attempt to change the plan is going through the back door," Sydney Ritchie, 55, who lives in Pikoiloa, a Kaneohe subdivision adjacent to Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery. "The Land Use Commission made a decision. Their decision should be final. When I stand in my front yard, if the expansion is allowed, I would no longer be looking at a nice, beautiful hill. They will be cutting away this hill."
The city will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. today at Windward Community College, in Hale Akoakoa Room 105, to discuss the proposed plan changes, which would give cemeteries the same consideration as golf courses.
The issues include protecting adjacent neighborhoods from rock-fall, runoff and erosion; water contamination; the removal of trees; protecting a complex of 12 cultural sites including three heiau; conserving indigenous and endemic flora and fauna; and loss of property values.
The Land Use Commission denied the reclassification in part because the sustainability plan does not allow cemeteries to be built on preservation land.
A city Planning Department official said the city’s proposal simply clarifies that cemeteries would be a permitted use in preservation areas.
"The current plan language is confusing, and maybe even a bit conflicting," she said.
Kaneohe resident Pat Gardner, who testified before the commission, said that if the city issue is resolved, cemetery officials "will have a chance to go before the board."
Grant Yoshimori, with Hui O Pikoiloa, a community group opposing the expansion, said: "The Land Use Commission had made that decision based on a number of factors to keep that land in conservation and all of those factors still exist."
He said he hopes the city will look at those factors as well as public sentiment. His group collected 800 signatures on a petition opposing the expansion.
Bettye Jo Harris, who lives on property bordering the proposed expanded cemetery, worries that clearing the area will cause problems to an already flood-prone area. She’s seen water from Kawa Stream shoot up 50 feet high during a storm. "We need to put the brakes on them. They don’t care about residents on Ohaha Place," she said.
Scott Ezer of the planning firm Helber Hastert Fee, contracted by Hawaiian Memorial, said the expansion plans would include grading and reshaping the land — not removing hills; adding a 15-acre cultural preserve and a shallow basin to accommodate runoff from a 100-year storm; removal of non-native forest; and planting of native trees.
About 30 acres would be used for 30,000 burial plots and a third of an acre for three mausoleums.
Residents also objected to a proposal for a 20-lot residential subdivision on 6.4 acres, but that was eliminated from the project.
"Our original plan has been amended quite extensively to address all of the community concerns," said Jay Mortford, Hawaiian Memorial vice president.
Juliane McCreedy worries a change to the sustainability plan will "set a precedent all the way out to the North Shore. … Now golf courses and cemeteries are going to be allowed in these beautiful ecosystems."