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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 29, 2006

Kaua'i to consider 'big box' ban

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i Within days of the opening of a Costco store, both Mayor Bryan Baptiste and the County Council are promoting a bill to ban further "big box" stores on the island.

The mayor has proposed the ban, and the County Council adopted portions of Baptiste's proposal into its own bill and has sent it to the Kaua'i Planning Commission for comments. No public hearings have been scheduled so far.

The proposal would prohibit any single retail or wholesale facility of more than 75,000 square feet. Each of the existing Wal-Mart, Kmart and Costco stores has more than 100,000 square feet.

Baptiste and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, a co-sponsor of the Council bill, said it's not a case of closing the barn door after the horse has fled, but rather a case of enough being enough.

"I believe there are enough choices for people. We don't need to continue to allow a proliferation of big-box stores," Baptiste said.

"It's out of character with our island. To me it's very similar to the high-rise issue," Yukimura said.

Both said the proposed ban is not targeted at any specific retailer, but Wal-Mart has proposed a Superstore, expanding the existing Wal-Mart in Lihu'e. Baptiste said Wal-Mart officials visited the island this week and met with him.

"I told them it's really nothing personal. Wal-Mart has been a good community member. But I told them there isn't a need for five acres of store under roof," he said.

Housing and employment are also issues, he said.

"They need another 100 or 200 employees. Where are those people going to come from, and where are they going to live?" Baptiste said.

Kaua'i Chamber of Commerce director Randall Francisco said the island's most recent unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, and he has been counseling businesses on ways to find nontraditional employees in a super-tight labor market.

Among his recommendations: senior citizens, students, long-term winter visitors, people with disabilities and people recently released from a correctional facility.

Yukimura said, "We certainly don't need more jobs right now."

Baptiste said one of the key issues for any new, giant retailer is that the island's roads aren't designed for a huge new source of traffic. He said the proposed Wal-Mart Superstore, as an example, would create twice the traffic of a big football game at the county's Vidinha Stadium.

"It's like having a football game every day of the week and the traffic that goes with it," he said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.