Kapahi neighbors say retreat doesn’t belong

Spa would occupy agricultural areaBY PAUL C. CURTIS

TGI Staff Writer

KAPAHI — Over 130 neighbors of a proposed retreat center

along rural Kahuna Road have signed a petition objecting to the center in an

area which for generations has been confined to agricultural use.

State and

Kaua’i County agencies have also expressed concern that the proposed commercial

venture, Amy Munechika Awtry’s Kahuna Springs project, may not be appropriate

in the county open zone and state agricultural district.

Still, the

county’s Planning Commission could approve the project at its 11 a.m. meeting

tomorrow at Lihu’e Civic Center.

According to Carol Lemke, who spearheaded

the petition drive and whose family has land all around the proposed retreat

center site, there should be no commercial uses other than farming in her

neighborhood.

“We want to keep (agriculture) as ag,” she said.

State

agencies have echoed her concerns. David W. Blane, director of the state

Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s Office of Planning,

has written, “We are concerned that allowing visitor accommodations and

activities within the state agricultural district will set a precedent for

similar or more intense types of uses in the area.”

Awtry’s neighbors are

worried about the same thing, especially how a commercial venture already built

to accommodate 20 to 30 guests may forever change the serenity of their

neighborhood.

Such commercial uses should be near the highway, not near

cattle-grazing areas, say Lemke and others.

“This development is similar to

a small resort,” Blane wrote.

“The applicant should clarify how the

project is not contrary to the objectives sought to be accomplished by Chapters

205 and 205A, Hawai’i Revised Statutes pursuant to Section 15-15-95, Hawai’i

Administrative Rules,” wrote a representative of Department of Business,

Economic Development and Tourism’s Land Use Commission (LUC).

The chapters

refer to keeping state agricultural land primarily in agricultural use.

“We

recommend that conditions be imposed to ensure that the proposed retreat and

spa facility do not expand beyond its proposed establishment to ensure the

rural and agricultural character of the Kawaihau region,” the LUC

representative wrote.

Awtry’s 27.4-acres, called Kahuna Springs, has been

in agricultural use for generations.

The proposal by Awtry’s RAE ‘Ohana LLC

(Limited Liability Company) is to use 6.9 acres of the parcel for an

educational retreat and health spa.

Within that 6.9 acres are five

existing residences and three other buildings.

In her application before

the Planning Commission, Pakala native Awtry says such group settings for

educational and rejuvenation retreats are sorely lacking on the island, and

that her proposed uses “are not suitable in the properly designated and zoned

commercial and resort districts of Kaua’i, generally located along busy

highways.”

Further, her desire to produce organic foods on the property

wouldn’t work in other areas, she said.

“Allowing the buildings on the

property to produce income from tourism will help offset unstable income

generated from the farm operations,” Awtry writes in her application.

The

area is intended to include a working farm operation, with taro and other

fruits, vegetables and flowers grown.

A bird sanctuary, farm, aquaculture

ponds, cultural and wellness programs, and numerous recreational venues would

“appeal to a small but growing niche market of visitors interested in

eco-tourism, agri-tourism, cultural tourism, and health and wellness tourism,”

Awtry said.

There likely would be five full-time and at least 20 part-time

employees at Kahuna Springs, with opportunities offered to adults in

welfare-to-work programs and other unemployed or underemployed Kauaians, Awtry

said.

Even though Awtry has tried to allay neighbors’ concerns about

traffic and how the proposal may change the quiet, rural neighborhood, they

remain opposed to any commercial use here. The proposal should be in a

commercial area, where the doctors, dentists and other businesses are, Lemke

and others contend.

“It’s wrong. We’ve got to hang on to our agricultural

land,” Lemke said. “Do it down where it belongs,” in a commercially zoned area

of the island, she added.

“It’s wrong because (Awtry is) trying to change

everything for the wrong reasons,” said Lemke, who would like her grandchildren

to be able to farm her family land if they so desire.

The infusion of even

one tourism enterprise in the neighborhood could threaten that possibility, she

feels.

Lemke and other neighbors said Awtry has verbally and in writing

told her neighbors that if they don’t want the retreat in their neighborhood,

she’ll not pursue the plan.

“There should be no commercial development

there, period,” Lemke stated.

Awtry is seeking three separate county

permits necessary for the project to proceed. A use permit is required as the

proposed use is not generally allowable in the county open zone, according to a

county Planning Department staff report.

A special permit is required

because the proposed use is not generally permitted in the Agricultural State

Land Use District, the report states.

“We would expect traffic problems on

these narrow roadways (Kahuna and Ahiahi roads are between 10 and 12 feet wide,

and Ahiahi is unpaved), which do not have sufficient width to accommodate

two-way traffic and/or are not paved roadways,” said county engineer Cesar

Portugal.

The Department of Public Works “has no plans to upgrade either

Kahuna or Ahiahi Road,” he said.

Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be

reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) and pcurtis@pulitzer.net

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