LIHUE — Civil proceedings were continued Friday in a legal dispute over 17 acres in Wailua, where Coco Palms Resort stood before it was shuttered in 1992 after being damaged by Hurricane Iniki.
The plaintiffs, developers Chad Waters and Tyler Greene of Coco Palms Hui, purchased the property through an insurance agency, while defendants Noa Mau-Espirito and Kamu “Charles” Hepa say they are the rightful owners through ancestry and a royal patent.
Judge Michael Soong told the court that the defendants filed a notice of quiet title civil complaint in Fifth Circuit Court late Thursday afternoon and were requesting a stay in the current trial.
Though the determination made in Circuit Court may supersede the decision rendered in District Court, Soong denied the defendants’ request.
Mau-Espirito disagreed with Soong’s decision to continue with the trial, stating the decision in the new trial may affect the decision made in this case.
“If that future determination is inconsistent with whatever was ruled in this case than it may supersede. That’s going to be decided on another date in another court,” Soong said. “So we are going to proceed with this case.”
Continuing his testimony, Hepa said he was restoring and preserving the hale and fishpond on the property, but the restoration is being impaired by Coco Palms LLC.
Hepa testified he would like to see his family acknowledged as the ones who are connected by name and genealogy to this place.
“For those of us in our family, we understand that this is what we must do,” Hepa said.
During his cross-examination of Hepa, attorney for the plaintiffs, Wayne Nasser, asked if he knew the coconut grove on the property was planted by humans. Hepa appeared to be offended by the question.
“The coconut grove that is there, each of those coconuts represent a tree that was planted on top of a kupuna. They rest there,” Hepa said.
The coconut grove, Nasser said, was planted in the 1890s.
“That is a lie,” Hepa said.
Greene took the stand for a second round of questioning, during which he testified of having a fee-simple interest to the property because of the warranty deed his LLC holds.
During a meeting with the defendants, Greene testified that he told them Coco Palms LLC was planning on building a center that would embrace and promote the Hawaiian culture. A committee was formed to oversee the project. The defendants, Greene said, were invited to be members of that committee, but they declined.
“Despite (you) illegally possessing the land,” Greene said, “in the spirit of Aloha, we tried reaching out to you.”
Greene testified that he has respect for Hawaiians and a love for the Hawaiian culture.
“Coco Palms is for all nationalities,” Greene said. “Hawaiians will be a big part of that.”
Since 2012, Waters and Greene of Coco Palms Hui have been trying to develop the property, with a $3.5-million demolition process begun in June, and initial plans to begin phase II of the renovation and reconstruction scheduled for early spring.
The $175 million project will boast about 400 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.
The defendants claim the land is for the people and are planning on developing a culturally relevant school, a children’s home, homes for Hawaiian people and a farm.