I think it starts in the documentation. Theoretically, the reason why Laravel is popular is because it has good documentation so you can just get there and read about things (not a bunch of TODOs). However, it looks like .NET code (because that guy was from the .NET world). I was even tempted to just port their the TOC (table of contents) and put down the Kohana docs. I think that latest Kohana 3.3 is really awesome and it started having "batteries included" (like pagination, queues) but not too much. If you look at jquery, they used to only have the "core" but now they have included a bunch of stuff in there and that is a client-side (more impact on load time) but obviously there are people who think jquery is "bloated".
Regardless, I was also faced with switching and if I have to lose Kohana, I might as well go write in another language like Node or Go. I don't even want to deal with PHP outside of Kohana.
To those who shadowhand "left the keys to", is it everything, including the domain and everything? (for example, the choice of this discourse forum and the decision to NOT import the old posts). May not be a bad decision but that may be the reason why people want to do a fork from the name (nature of BDFL?)
I'm thinking about contributing but not super technical and I get busy with non-tech stuff (like raising money, etc.) but perhaps in some other way. It was easy to manage 100+ devs if they work for you in a company (paycheck) but not really sure how that works for open source projects so the dynamics are probably different. I think the most important thing was establishing a "way of doing things" so every decision flows from that and the lead (me) didn't have to be involved in every decision. It was going into a room (flying senior guys in even) and debating various "anarchy" behavior and then leaving the room agreeing to work together with decisions made (for example, the normal religious coding standards war).
At any rate, I think Kohana is very, very close to being PHP 5.5+ (or PSR?) with support for composer (although I personally don't really know how to use that yet effectively) and namespaces. I'm also using Jelly instead of ORM for some reason that I can't remember (this was 2010 I think) and have to find some random libraries (like php-resque) for queuing.