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Nature Park or Tourist Trap?

How close is too close for visitor attractions in residential neighborhoods? That’s the big question many residents have for a local developer looking to attract visitors to a new park and zipline tour in Waimalu.

An affiliate of Towne Development of Hawaii , Inc. is still contemplating whether it will construct The Waimalu Nature Park and Zipline Canopy Tour, which includes seven pairs of zip lines and a 1,200 square foot nature center on a 447-acre parcel of property located in a forested area above the Royal Summit neighborhood. According to a company spokesman, the application for the project is still open, and no decision has been made about whether to move forward.

Currently, the parcel is zoned for conservation use, but, since the plans call for a nature center, the developer could be within its rights to use the parcel for the attraction. Still, the company would need a district use permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to proceed.

That’s in addition to providing an environmental impact statement in which the company must address social and economic impacts on the community and the long-term parameters for developing the parcel in Newtown, a neighborhood of about 2,500 homes.

Not surprisingly, the proposed park has many residents concerned about traffic and increased activity. And, they feel the nature center is just an excuse to build a visitor attraction so close to a residential neighborhood. Besides, they say, visitor destinations are typically confined to Waikiki and other designated areas, including Ko Olina, Makaha Valley and Laie.

Nature ziplines like this one could soon be built on Oahu.

Local politicians, along with about 150 local residents, testified against the project last year, and many of them said they left feeling unheard. Then-City Councilman Breene Harimoto went so far as to say he didn’t feel the developer was really trying to work with residents. He said, “It was clear that all the area residents had large concerns and objections, and it didn’t look like the developer was really trying to work with them.” He added, “Their fears are real to them and they live there. I think it’s the developer’s responsibility to address their concerns.”

A representative from the Newtown Estates Community Association even submitted a petition to the DLNR signed by 1,488 residents opposing the project. Add to that, the Aiea Neighborhood board voted unanimously to oppose the project.

In an environmental assessment, Towne Development said the nature park would have only a minor impact on traffic and would eliminate what is currently a trespassing problem on the property. In fact, the company says the operation may even have an overall beneficial impact on the community. It maintains the nature park could actually help the local flor by providing management for the native plants.

Supporters say building the zip line would actually help the nature around it.

The company is prepared to run about 15 tours a day. It would use vans to collect visitors from collection points, and the vans would make about 33 round trips per day. The statement also confirmed that customers would not be able to walk or drive onto the property.

For now, residents and visitors will have to wait and see if or when the project starts to take shape. But, don’t expect the company to break ground anytime soon–or start operating with out a fight.


Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Jun 1, 2015