Fresh battle lines are now drawn in a more than decade-
old effort by the largest funeral and cemetery service business operator in the nation to expand
Hawaiian Memorial Park in Kaneohe on forested conservation land near a residential subdivision.
The state Land Use Commission voted Thursday to allow a community group to participate in quasi-judicial hearings expected to begin Jan. 22 on the expansion plan while adhering to a defined list of issues on which to attack the plan.
Members of the group Hui o Pikoiloa previously challenged a similar bid by the cemetery owner in 2007 at commission hearings, and prevailed with a ruling against the project in 2009.
But an affiliate of Texas-based Service Corp. International, which owns Hawaiian Memorial, is back with a new petition to reclassify much of its undeveloped land from conservation to urban use after curing a prime deficiency in its prior attempt.
Service Corp. seeks to create room for 30,000 more burial sites on 28 acres along a hillside adjacent to the existing cemetery and abutting part of the Pikoiloa subdivision.
To permit the expansion, Service Corp. is asking the LUC to change the state land-use designation on 53 acres from conservation to urban. The company, as part of its proposal, would also protect another 130 acres of adjacent land from future development under an easement to be held by the nonprofit Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.
The previous plan from 2007 proposed four mausoleums, but these aren’t in the new plan.
Service Corp.’s prior request to urbanize a similar area for expansion was contested by opponents that included neighboring residents, the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board, Kaneohe Outdoor Circle and Life of the Land.
Though the state Office of Planning supported urbanizing some of the hillside, LUC members unanimously rejected the prior plan in part because urbanizing the conservation land wasn’t consistent with county guidelines indicating where urban growth should be allowed.
So Service Corp. asked the City Council to amend urban growth guidelines, which are set out in the city’s Koolau Poko Sustainable Communities Plan, and the Council did so in 2017.
Now the $3 billion cemetery operator and Hui o Pikoiloa are back before the LUC and ready to face off again.
“We’re very pleased to present our case,” said Rich McCreedy, a longtime Pikoiloa resident participating in the challenge at the LUC. “We’re raising all the good issues.”
The group, comprised of seven people who live adjacent to or within 400 feet of the expansion site’s boundary, intends to raise issues that include impacts on property values, flood risk, rockfall risk, views and Native Hawaiian gathering rights.
One member of the group, Lianne Ching, is a hula practitioner who gathers ferns on the proposed cemetery expansion site.
On Thursday, group leader Grant Yoshimori asked LUC members to add four other issues to contest: whether the expansion is really necessary, whether sufficient alternatives to the plan were considered,
climate-related issues and compliance with state and city laws.
Service Corp. didn’t object to the request, and it was approved by the commission.
Hui o Pikoiloa contends that Service Corp. could achieve its objective by interring customers more densely on existing cemetery grounds, and that plenty of space still exists for burials around Oahu, including at Hawaiian Memorial.
One part of the LUC’s 2009 ruling was that Service Corp. didn’t demonstrate a clear need for the additional burial area sought.
The Kaneohe cemetery, which opened in 1958 on
6 acres, today has 79,000 plots on 80 acres. Of these plots, only 41,000 are occupied, though all but about 4,500 have been sold.
Among Oahu’s seven
cemeteries, 20,100 plots
are available, according to Service Corp.
The company said its expansion plan is necessary to satisfy demand from an aging population.
“Currently, less than 6% of individual plots at HMP are available for families,” the company said in an environmental report last year.
Service Corp. also has said it has addressed concerns raised over flooding, rockfalls, soil runoff, water contamination, fauna, endangered species and other issues.
The company’s estimated $29 million project would re-contour the development site by making 10- to 75-foot cuts into the hillside, and building retaining walls as tall as 25 feet but averaging 10 feet. Other parts of the plan include creating stormwater retention basins, rockfall prevention fencing, a 150-foot buffer of open space next to homes, a 2,000-foot buffer from the Pohai Nani senior living community and a 14.5-acre cultural preserve to protect existing features on the land, including a heiau.
If the LUC approves the plan, Service Corp. anticipates starting construction next year and beginning plot sales in 2021. It would take 18 months to finish infrastructure work, though full construction could last up to 10 years, the company said.