Adventists file complaint against Knudsen Trust

The Hawaiian Association of Seventh-Day Adventists has filed a complaint against Stacey T.J. Wong, a trustee for the Eric A. Knudsen Trust, in regards to commercial use of Kahili Mountain Park.

The complaint was filed March 10 in Fifth Circuit Court in Lihu’e. No court appearances have yet been scheduled.

The Adventist group is seeking declaratory relief in a judgment that they say would clarify the terms of a lease they hold for Knudsen Trust property they claim was verbally amended by the trust.

“Of course, the hope is that we can reach some kind of settlement and agreed-upon interpretation of the lease…the longer this goes on we are at risk of closing the school,” said David Pendleton, spokesman and coordinator for special ministries.

The religious organization runs Kahili Adventist School within the park.

The trust has 20 days to reply to the complaint after being served. Wong, after several calls to his office and secretary Monday, was not immediately available for comment or to verify whether he had been served with the complaint.

The Adventist group owns and operates Kahili Mountain Park and Kahili Adventist School, which is located on 150 acres of land owned by the Eric A. Knudsen trust.

In 1984, Kahili Mountain Park Inc. was dissolved and the lease was undertaken by the church, who bought all shares from the company that ran the park since 1967 under a lease written in 1949).

Wong, who became a trustee on Aug. 28, 2000, did not object to vacation rentals, according to the complaint. It adds that Wong encouraged the church to expand the number of cabins from 20 to 100 and offered to loan up to $200,000 to construct hot springs and cold plunge pools, a hot tub, sauna and weightroom facilities-the goal being increased park profits of potentially $5-10 million a year. The group then drew up a five-year business plan to incorporate the expansions, according to the complaint.

“It would have been a win-win situation,” Pendleton said.

Later, it was the trust’s position that commercial use of the property was prohibited, and that non-church recreation had to cease, he added.

“We aren’t in the business of running for-profit operations. We are very closely tied in with the school and our primary mission is providing quality education, emphasizing character and educating the leaders of tomorrow,” Pendleton said.

The church claims that a 1949 lease does not specifically disallow commercial usage or vacation rentals of the cabins.

“We believe the cabins are a permitted use and they can’t point to language in the lease and say it’s not permitted,” Pendleton said.

“The Kahili Mountain Park and rentals have been in continuous operation since 1967,” Pendleton said. It wasn’t until the trust decided to change their view that the vacation rentals had to stop, he added. By Oct. 31, 2002, all long-term leases and vacation rentals ended and all tenants and vacationers were forced to relocate.

Callers to the park are directed to call Ellie Knopf at Koloa Land and Cottages for accommodations. Knopf said her children went through Kahili Adventist School, one is a current student, and she is a long-time supporter of the school. The school caters to those who want their children to have a private education but can’t afford it if it were higher-priced, she said.

Until litigation is complete, the park will remain closed to the public and cabins will not be rented. Access for recreation is limited to those involved with the church and school, Pendleton said.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at mailto:kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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