Left in Limbo

No Decision on Zappacosta Appeal

It would be tough for a 20,000 square foot home to go unnoticed anywhere, but on Molokai it brings the entire community to arms. Five months after Peirluigi Zappacosta was told he did not need a Special Management Area (SMA) permit to build his farm dwelling, the decision has still not been finalized.

On April 22, the Molokai Planning Commission (MoPC) voted to exempt Zappacosta’s planned home from the SMA permit, citing laws that single family dwellings are exempt from the permits as long as they do not show any threat to the environment or neighboring lands. However, the Zappacosta’s case raised eyebrows because of its size – 20,000 square feet and 10 bathrooms. Some believe MoPC Commissioners should have required an SMA permit for the project.  Others objected to the way it was presented to the public. Several testifiers alleged that the public agenda for the April 22 meeting was misleading because it did not clearly explain the size and scope of the project.

“[The agenda] didn’t tell us how big this mansion is going to be. It didn’t bring any red flags to the community,” said Walter Ritte, who has been outspoken about the project for several months.

Steve Morgan, a Kaluakoi resident, appealed the decision on May 29. He argued that the Zappacosta’s SMA application was incomplete and that the project does not qualify as a single family dwelling under SMA rules because it consists of a main house, a guest house, a barn and four water utilities. The County made a motion to dismiss the appeal on June 26, saying that it was addressed to the wrong party and in an untimely fashion. Morgan said both of those claims were unfounded.

“My response to their motion is they are incorrect on both terms. They are using terms that simply aren’t inside their language,” said Morgan, who is anxious to get on with the proceedings. “It’s like playing a basketball game and every two seconds they call foul. I just want to get to the meat of my appeal and stop with the little stuff.”

Public Mana`o
Two dozen citizens showed up to share their feelings on the matter with the MoPC. Supporters of both sides of the issue showed up in approximately equal force.

Those who were against the Zappacosta exemption brought up several concerns including the size of the house, the precedent the MoPC was setting for future builders and water usage. The plans for the house include a desalination plant and a well that would keep the Zappacostas from taking water from the citizens already living on Molokai. However, without having to acquire an SMA permit, some pointed out there is nothing to keep the Zappacostas from changing their mind and using water from another source.

“No west end development should be approved until critical water issues are resolved,” homesteader Glenn Teves said. “If this new development will not use domestic water then this needs to be written into the conditions.” Teves also said the Commission needs to take a closer look at the effects of left-over salt if the desalination plan is used.

Ray Tensfeldt, a civil engineer who has studied desalination plants, said that the process is efficient, chemical free and would not affect the salt levels in fishing spots along the coast.

“Fifteen million gallons a day is evaporated from one square mile of ocean. What Zappacosta is going to take out of the ocean is negligible and whatever he puts back as brine will go unnoticed,” Tensfeldt said.

Many other testifiers spoke in defense of the decision. They congratulated MoPC Commissioners and argued that there were no laws that put size limits on single family dwellings. Some local Hawaiians spoke up because of the influx of construction jobs it would provide on the island.

“The bottom line is we need these jobs to pay bills,” Wiliama Akutagawa said. “Some of my workers are saving up to build a home of their own. There is a lot of masonry work involved [in the Zappacosta job] and that is our livelihood.”

Letter of the Law
Other supporters suggested that if people were concerned, they should work to change the laws rather than complaining about the way they are implemented.

“Whatever opinions we hear today do not change the law,” Sarah Naismith said. Naismith was formerly a planning supervisor in Oregon. “If you don’t like what is going on, work to change the laws that we all live under.”

Molokai resident DeGray Vanderbilt argued that the decision did, in fact, go against the law.

“As I read the state law, a single family house is exempt – not a multi-building compound with four waste water systems,” he said. “I don’t know how you all granted an exemption for such a big project.”

Hawaii’s coastal zone management laws state that a single family dwelling is exempt as long as “it is not part of a larger development.”  Vanderbilt argued that a separate guest house, swimming pool, Jacuzzi and barn were enough to constitute a “larger development.”

Morgan and Attorney Jane Lovell, representing the County of Maui in its stand to dismiss Morgan’s appeal, were supposed to present their cases on why the appeal should or should not be allowed during the Sept. 9 meeting. However, neither side was able to speak due to time constraints.

MoPC decided they would hear preliminary public testimony on the case first, so that people wanting to testify could return to work. That portion of the meeting took nearly three hours to complete. That testimony will be used if the commission decides not to dismiss Morgan’s appeal. Both Morgan and Lovell objected to the Commission’s decision to listen to the public before deciding if there would even be a case.

The motion to dismiss Morgan’s appeal will be discussed the next time the MoPC meets during the last week of September or first week of October.

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