Commissioners turn down permit for Hospice facility

The proposal by Kauai Hospice to use a former doctor’s home across Wilcox Hospital as a permanent office facility was denied by the Kaua’i County Planning Commission Tuesday.

During a regular meeting at the Lihu’e Civic Center, the commission acknowledged the invaluable service Kauai Hospice has provided to residents with dying family members.

However, most commissioners cited the need to keep the areas around Isenberg Tract in residential use and not to encourage commercialization of the area.

Allowing commercialization to find its way into residential neighborhoods “breaks my heart,” said commissioner member Sandi Kato-Klutke.

When commercialization occurs in such places, “we are taking away the essence of Kaua’i,” she said.

The commission voted by a 4-0 margin against the proposal. Commissioners Jay Furfaro and Randal Nishimura agreed with the denial by remaining silent on the vote.

Hospice sought a use permit and a Class IV Zoning permit for a permanent office facility for administrative functions and staff training.

The denial by the commission has forced Hospice to rethink its plans for its future facility.

Through an earlier county permit, Hospice has approval to temporarily use the former doctor’s home for administrative functions for three years.

Tom Lodico, vice present of Hospice board, said the organization may now ask for an extension of that permit, even though a condition in that first permit calls for no extension.

Lodico also said that had Hospice gotten the latest permits, the organization would have bought the 1.5 acres the house sits on. Wilcox offered to sell the house to Hospice as long as the organization secured the permits, Lodico said.

With denial of the latest permit requests, Hospice may now begin a search for another home to buy for its office facility or to buy land and build a Hospice facility on it, he said.

A critic of the latest proposal by Hospice, Pat Cockett said approval of the permits would bring more traffic and people into the neighborhood and that residents don’t want commercialization of the neighborhood.

If the permits had been granted, the facility would have been primarily used by a small staff, Lodico rebutted.

While recognizing the benefits Hospice has provided to many residents, commission chairwoman Abigail Santos said the organization’s proposed use is not compatible with the residential neighborhood.

Lodico said later that the area has already become home to a few small businesses and is undergoing the transformation that the commission doesn’t want to happen in a residential neighborhood.

But commissioner Jay Furfaro said the concerns about commercialization in a residential neighborhood should be put in perspective.

He reminded the audience the property is still zoned for residential use and that the commercial use of the property is only tied to the Hospice proposal.

Once the permit has expired, the home can continue to be used as home, he indicated.

Cockett also said Hospice should look for an alternate site for its permanent office.

Lodico said Hospice has raised sufficient funds for a permanent office site, but suspended fundraising efforts after Wilcox Hospital offered to sell the 1.5-acre property to the organization.

Cockett also said the commission should not grant an extension of Hospice’s temporary permit to use the home, saying it would be hypocritical in light of a condition in that permit calling for no extension.

Commissioner Gary Heu and others said they were cognizant of that condition, but Heu said he would consider requests from Hospice for one to allow the organization time to raise enough money to find the appropriate site for its facility.

Furfaro noted that raising money on Kaua’i is not an easy thing to do because the economy is still uncertain a year after the terrorist attacks and because other island organizations also are conducting fundraisers now.

Lodico said Hospice is caught in a “catch 22.” In order for fundraisers to be successful, the property has to be identified, and if one isn’t, “no one is going to donate.”

As an alternative that could be a “win-win situation for Hospice and its neighbors, commissioner Randal Nishimura suggested the Hospice board look at having the property downsized from R-4 to R-2.

The current zoning allows for a maximum density of 12 structures, but the R-2 zoning would allow for only six structures.

If Hospice buys the property from Wilcox Hospital and decides to sell the property later, the property would allow for a maximum density of six units, Nishimura said.

This would mean less density and impact on the neighborhood in the long run, Nishmura said.

Cockett said, however, there were no guarantees Hospice will not build more structures on the property if it gets the latest permits, a contention refuted by Lodico.

“Hospice has no plans to expand, and we have filled only half of the site now,” he said. “There is only administrative functions there now. No inpatient (services that could bring more people into the neighborhood).”

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