New Kaunakakai Multi-Use Building Nearing Completion
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
A prominent new building in Kaunakakai is nearing completion after construction delays following its controversial approval in 2017. The building, located on the corner between American Savings Bank and the current DreamTech Verizon store, will contain eight small studio units and three commercial spaces, according to owner Stan Wada of Oahu.
Wada said he is still deciding whether the units will be used as hotel rooms or longer term rental. Each unit will have a small refrigerator and bathroom, with six units on the second floor and two downstairs for wheelchair accessibility. Three commercial spaces will be available for business use.
“When I was a younger person renting space to do some work on Molokai, we used to stay at the old hotel on Hotel Lane, about 45 years ago,” said Wada. “We used to rent cheaper hotel rooms — that was my vision to still have some of that. Like a dream, I guess.”
His vision is to provide accommodation in Kaunakakai so guests don’t have to rent a car to get meals in town.
“I think rental-wise I think we can keep it lower than other places — that’s my goal, anyway,” he said.
Wada told The Molokai Dispatch last month he hopes the building will be complete at the end of this year or beginning of 2023, after COVID-related delays.
“I just wanted to get it done, it’s been so long,” he said.
Wada said he hopes it will provide “some kind of contribution” to the Molokai community. He’s been coming to the island for decades and owns a home here.
He said the construction work has mostly employed local laborers.
“I don’t know why I’m doing it, actually,” he admitted of the build. “I know it’s not going to be profitable, the community’s too small, but it will serve its purpose, it will give some people jobs, make some kind of contribution there.”
The project was approved by the Molokai Planning Commission in 2017, despite a majority of testimony against it.
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.
The Dispatch reported in 2017 that concerns included disruption of Saturday market, which used to take place on the property before COVID, while other testifiers 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,” Walter Ritte testified in 2017. “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.”
At the 2017 Planning Commission meeting, 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 in 2017. “It’s not our ideas — it’s their dreams, not our dreams.”
A parking lot with 13 stalls is planned for the rear of the building, according to plans on record with the county.
During the 2017 meeting, Planning 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.
Wada reiterated last month his goal to help Molokai through his building, which will employee a local manager, as well as long term maintenance and housekeeping staff.
“I just hope that we do supply some good to the community, especially employment,” said Wada last month. “It’s tough on Molokai. If it provides a few jobs, that will help in a small way.”
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