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Kaunakakai Hotel Moves Forward

Despite a majority of community testimony against the project, a new hotel and commercial building in Kaunakakai was green-lighted by the Molokai Planning Commission at the end of last month.

The planned, two-story building would offer eight rooms for rent and retail storefront. The property of the proposed hotel, located between American Saving Bank and Kalele Bookstore, is currently a 13,092 square foot empty lot owned by Stanley Wada. The first floor would include two room units, manager’s office, laundry room, and three retail units, totaling 3,776 square foot of building coverage, according to Maui County Molokai Planner Sybil Lopez. Six room units will comprise the top floor.

The building’s first floor will also include public restrooms that would be open during business hours. A parking lot on the property would accommodate 13 stalls.

Wada purchased the vacant lot in 2006, and it had been vacant since 1991, when a fire destroyed the previous Napa Auto Parts store located there, according to county records.

Molokai project consultant Luigi Manera said Wada was in Alaska on other business and could not be present for the July 26 Molokai hearing. Many residents voiced disappointment they could not meet him in person.

“He should show up if this is so important to him,” said kupuna Judy Caparida, who opposed the project. “We don’t need it in town, we don’t want to be like Maui, like Honolulu.”

Many expressed concern for the impact the building would have on vendors at Saturday market.

“I’m not opposed to development but I’m opposed to this development because I don’t see it serving a clear community need, it doesn’t seem necessary,” said Mahina Poepoe. “It’s going to displace numerous people at swap meet and those are jobs too. Small business is the life blood at our community…I’m worried about the vendors.”

Lopez said longterm plans are in place to move the location of the Saturday market.

“It’s fortunate that vendors can do what they do right now, because Mr. Wada opened up his property for that, but we want to relocate where it was originally planned for swap meet, to Malama Cultural Site,” she said.

Others were concerned about increased congestion in town.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of planning on this island, and no one has ever requested to build a hotel in Kaunakakai,” said resident Walter Ritte. “My wife keeps tells me the town getting too crowded, don’t recognize people in supermarket any more, gas stations crowded…. We should save the space for what Molokai people want to do.”

Resident Kau`i Manera recalled two small hotels that used to be in Kaunakakai.

“The reason I’m supporting the project is because it’s not a new concept,” she testified, as one of the only community members to express approval. “[When we were young] we would come to Kaunakakai from east end to go shopping but we always knew there was a hotel….The concept of having a hotel in downtown Kaunakakai is not a new one so I would think that would bash any notion this is not [a good idea].”

Others questions Wada’s motivations for the project.

“We have a lot of people with new ideas and they want to change Molokai and we forget that people who live here, when their changes don’t work, guess who has to clean up their mess? It’s the people who live here,” said Cynthia Luafalemana. “It’s not our ideas — it’s their dreams, not our dreams.”

“There’s a lot of drug activity that goes on in town and we don’t even have a true rehab where we can house the people and [help them],” testified resident Sean Ellis, who opposed the project. “All I see is someone coming in here and taking money for themselves and not doing anything for the community. We need to see Molokai for Molokai.”

Many testifiers also expressed concern over ground contamination studies that are being conducted by Maui Electric around the old power plant site near the Wada property. Two permits were granted earlier this year to test soil samples — one for a primary test area as well as a secondary area of surrounding properties if results indicated contamination had spread outside the initial boundary.

Lopez said the second permit does include the Wada property. She said Maui Electric confirmed the results should be completed by the end of the year to indicate whether more extensive testing is needed.

Daniel Emhof, who works in the adjacent Galliher building, said, “We need more information before any of this moves forward.”

Others raised concerns over proper drainage, a fuel tank some testified used to be on the property, and parking and traffic flow.

“It will actually alleviate traffic because the building will be where swap meet is now, and the parking lot where accommodate for that,” said Lopez.

She said entry to the property would be from Ala Malama St. and exit would be at the rear of the property behind Misaki’s.

Commissioner Lori Buchanan had concerns over the conditions of the permits. Wada requested a Special Use Permit and a Special Management Area Use Permit for construction within Kaunakakai’s Country Town Business District zoning. The hotel portion of the project falls under the transient vacation rental category of one to 12 bedrooms, yet it would not be subject to the same rules as other vacation rentals because of the zoning. Buchanan requested that for purpose of oversight and proper management, a hotel manager be available onsite for any concerns that may arise, similar to other vacation rentals.

Another condition placed on the project’s approval, at Buchanan’s suggestion, was that the permit be valid for five years from the time of issuance of the permit of occupancy, rather than the original 10 years. The permit would come before the Planning Commission for review and renewal at that time.

The project was approved by the Molokai Planning Commission with a 5-2 vote. A building permit must still be obtained before construction can begin.

Some residents expressed concern that despite the many community members who opposed the project, it was still approved by Commissioners. Earlier in the meeting, a group of residents stood up to request the removal of Commission Chair Rob Stephenson, who they said “doesn’t seem to listen.” To date, Stephenson remains in his position as chair.

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