Environmental documents for school nearly complete

West Hawaii Today/July 6, 2003
By Bobby Command

Environmental documents are nearly complete for a $4 million to $6 million North Kona boarding high school financed by Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

The Pacific Rim Education Foundation seeks a special permit to build the High School of the Pacific on 30 acres of agriculturally zoned property about a mile north of Kona Palisades and adjacent to the Puukala subdivision.

School officials had looked into the possibility of sharing access to Mamalahoa Highway with neighboring subdivisions. But concerns by residents prompted an alternative plan to build an access road across state property. Use of state land triggers preparation of an environmental assessment.

Sidney Fuke, a planning consultant for the Pacific Rim Education Foundation, said documents are nearly complete and should be submitted to the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

The school plans to build enough space to house and teach 200 students, mostly from emerging Pacific island nations. But Pacific Rim Education Foundation officials said space will be reserved for about 30 to 40 students from Hawaii.

"We think it's a great opportunity to do something for the little guys," said Joe Tully, president of the High School of the Pacific. "They can't do it themselves. They don't have the critical mass of population or money."

Tully said the school would have a $3 million annual operating budget and would serve all faiths, cultures and ethnic groups. According to planning documents, "HSOP will be dedicated to providing an environment for the cultivation of personal integrity, academic excellence and the master of technical skills."

Despite the mission statement, some have expressed high levels of concern about a school financed by Moon's Unification Church. West Hawaii Today has received numerous anonymous calls, documents and e - mails detailing the Unification Church's business dealings, practices and beliefs.

The Unification Church claims a U.S. membership of about 50,000 and about 3 million worldwide, although critics say those numbers are inflated.

Church literature describes the movement as family centered and seeking world peace. But critics call it a "cult" because of its involvement in mass weddings, supposed brainwashing recruitment and members' belief that Moon is the Messiah.

Issues regarding church beliefs are irrelevant to county planners, but some neighbors have expressed concerns about traffic, access and appropriate use of agricultural land.

Should the state declare no significant impact by the project, the zoning request would continue at the county level with a contested - case hearing granted to a group of residents at the adjoining Puukala subdivision.

Mike Matsukawa, a Kona attorney representing the homeowners, said the group is concerned about the impact a boarding school will have on the 80 - home community. The homeowners have also suggested school officials consider seeking a zoning change rather than a special permit for the school.

Guido Giacometti, a project manager for the luxury Makalei Estates subdivision, said a concern of the Makalei residents was eliminated when a lot that connected the proposed school site with the subdivision was sold, leaving little chance it would be used for access.

Giacometti said a newly formed homeowners association at the gated community would address future concerns of subdivision residents.

But Giacometti, also a land use consultant for the 750 - unit Hiluhilu Subdivision makai of Makalei Estates, said more attention must be paid to infrastructure needs in the rapidly growing regions north of Kalaoa.

In addition to the golf course being planned at Hiluhilu, hundreds of other homes are proposed around the makai end of Kona Palisades subdivision. The area is also the site of the future University of Hawaii - West Hawaii Center.

"We have to be careful about how much development we program there," Giacometti said. "I'd like to know where (the school is) going to get its water."

Early versions of the special permit application to the county called for a distribution system that would be extended through Puukala subdivision, which lacks county distribution. The alternative is to extend the county main along Mamalahoa Highway about a half mile north of its current terminus at the entrance to Puukala.

The high school would consist of three parcels in what is known as the Kona Ocean View Subdivision. Seven buildings would be built, including classrooms, dormitory, auditorium and sports field.

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