The owner of Hawaiian Memorial Park claims that most Oahu residents support a planned expansion of the Kaneohe cemetery onto forested conservation land.
The claim was made Tuesday during the resumption of a public hearing by the state Land Use Commission following a four-month break partly due to coronavirus mitigation efforts.
An affiliate of Texas-based Service Corp. International, which owns the cemetery, submitted a survey to the LUC showing that 64% of Oahu residents support the expansion plan that would add 30,000 burial sites to the 79,000-plot cemetery.
The survey by local research firm SMS contacted 400 randomly selected adults March 7-16, including 133 Windward Oahu residents.
SMS said in its report that 29% of respondents were neutral and 7% opposed the project.
Service Corp. also described its $29 million plan as “shovel ready” if approved, and suggested that expanding Hawaiian Memorial would help the state rebound from an economic recession caused by COVID-19.
“Our investment in this project is intended to benefit the community at a time when it is most needed by providing local job opportunities amidst record level unemployment, increased spending in the community for local businesses, and vital increases in tax revenue for the state and the city,” Sumner J. Waring III, Service Corp. chief operating officer, said in a May 1 letter submitted to the LUC.
Still, the plan is a controversial one being contested by community group Hui o Pikoiloa, which challenged a prior Hawaiian Memorial expansion plan in 2007 and prevailed with a 2009 LUC ruling against the project.
The 2009 decision was partly based on the expansion area, which Service Corp. wants to urbanize for cemetery use, being outside county guidelines for where urban growth should be permitted.
Service Corp. obtained an urban-growth boundary amendment from the City Council in 2017 to make its plan consistent with county guidelines.
The company also revised elements in its prior plan, eliminating four mausoleums and a 20-home subdivision.
The current plan would add 28 acres for additional burials to the existing 80-acre cemetery. It also would establish an easement to be held by a nonprofit land trust protecting 130 acres of adjacent land from future development in perpetuity, and create a cultural preserve around an ancient Native Hawaiian heiau on this land along with protecting the habitat of an endangered native damselfly on the property.
A hearing on the revised plan began in January and was dominated by public testimony from about 40 people split roughly equally supporting or opposing the project.
At Tuesday’s resumed hearing, which was held via a Zoom videoconference that lasted about six hours, much time was spent assessing a burial supply-and-demand study produced by real estate firm CBRE for Service Corp.
CBRE valuation expert Tom Holliday said about 120,000 plots are needed on Oahu through 2040 to satisfy projected demand but that only 16,500 plots are available.
Grant Yoshimura, a member of Hui o Pikoiloa participating in the hearing as an intervenor, discounted the study. He pointed out that the supply excludes 4,500 unsold plots at Hawaiian Memorial and ignores the fact that customers can have up to two caskets or four urns in a single plot at the Kaneohe cemetery.
Yoshimura also noted that there are other plans to expand or establish cemeteries on Oahu, which the CBRE report shows could add 89,000 plots.
Some commissioners asked about potential plot resales from inventory that has been sold but not used. Of Hawaiian Memorial’s 79,000 plots, only 41,000 are occupied.
Holliday said the uncertainty of other expansion plans is high and that there would still be unmet demand even if Hawaiian Memorial sold its available inventory and maximized plot occupancy.
“There is still huge demand,” he said.
Other issues discussed Tuesday included rockfall mitigation, a commitment to replace trees on the expansion site and the need to remove about 57,000 cubic yards of earth, or enough to fill about 3,800 dump trucks, to terrace the hillside expansion site.
Much time also was spent discussing contingencies to ensure groundwater that supports the damselfly isn’t cut off by terracing work.
Service Corp., the largest funeral and cemetery service business operator in the world, contends that its engineering and cultural plans sufficiently address all issues opponents have raised, which also include stormwater runoff and buffer zones from residents.
The LUC quasi-judicial hearing, which allows participants to introduce and cross-examine expert witnesses, is scheduled to resume today and extend to future dates before a decision is made.
Besides Hui o Pikoiloa, which includes neighbors in the Pikoiloa subdivision abutting the 28-acre expansion site, other participants in the hearing are the city Department of Planning and Permitting and the state Office of Planning.
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