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Night-club debate rages in Nawiliwili

The County of Kaua’i Liquor Control Commission will hear both sides of a heated debate Thursday afternoon over a liquor-license application in Nawiliwili Harbor.

The proposed establishment, located in the old bowling alley at the south end of the Anchor Cove Shopping Center adjacent to Nawiliwili Park, has struck a chord with many residents.

“That park is one of the main drug-purchasing locations on the whole island,” said Steve Layne, owner of the Garden Island Inn across the street. “You couldn’t pick a worse spot on the whole island for causing trouble.”

Layne and other opponents cite noise, vandalism and violence as chief concerns. In a March 8, 2006, letter to area residents, Layne warned that noise from loiterers and drug dealers in Nawiliwili Park is not only keeping residents awake, but also driving down property values.

The financiers of Bayside View, the limited-liability corporation backing the project, said they are aware of the problems associated with the park, and are not interested in bringing anymore negative elements to the area.

“In anything pertaining to my property, there will be security,” said Victor Heresa, one of the four Bayside View partners and owner of Sushi Bushido restaurant in Anchor Cove. “We’re not going to jeopardize our restaurants.”

The other Bayside View partners, Richard Jasper, Jimmy Jasper and Jennifer Jasper, own Anchor Cove.

“I don’t want my place to (get) out of hand,” Heresa said. “I’ve seen what happens to other places.”

“Every time a new establishment comes in and tries to serve alcohol and entertainment, we go through the same situation,” said Paul Pomroy, a retired firefighter and 35-year Nawiliwili resident.

Ten years ago, fierce neighborhood opposition led the liquor commission to reject an application for a night club seeking permission to provide alcohol and dancing until 2 a.m. The club opened on a bring-your-own basis, but quickly fell into trouble and closed its doors.

Heresa, a 40-year-old family man born and raised on Kaua’i, said he will not operate as a night club.

“I went in with the notion of having a banquet hall, to provide classy options like Carriage House,” he said, referring to the open-air, private facility in Puhi.

Unlike the Carriage House, Heresa’s venue is indoors, encased in double concrete walls, something he said should keep the noise down.

“Of course, I would use my license to the full extent,” he added, referring to the ability to serve alcohol and play music until 2 a.m.

Opponents of the current proposal acknowledge that a new establishment, night club or otherwise, will not be the sole source of problems, but could contribute to existing issues in the area.

A bad track record

Layne cited several area crime statistics for the area, provided by the Kaua’i Police Department’s records unit supervisor, Estelle Furuike.

From January to March of this year, for example, there have been 54 arrests for criminal offenses in the Nawiliwili area, compared with 63 all of last year (see table).

“The problems don’t happen in the night club,” Layne said. “They happen outside.”

“The minute you bring in a liquor establishment, a dance hall, and put it next to a park with an existing drug problem, you’re going to increase the problem,” said Marcie Gracey, director of Banyan Harbor’s board of directors.

She said Banyan Harbor has had numerous issues with revelers heading home from the bars causing disturbances in both the park and on private property, and she has called the police hundreds of times already this year.

“Sometimes I call three and four times a night,” she said.

Pomroy said he sometimes hears the fighting, and has called 911 three or four times in 2006.

Gracey also said officers recently neglected to arrest drunken trespassers on Banyan Harbor property because the police department was “stretched too thin.

“If we can’t get the police to help us now, with two individuals coming onto our property, how are they going to control 15?” she said. “We don’t need another bar down here.”

While the KPD stopped short of admitting they were not equipped to handle the burgeoning problem in Nawiliwili, operations officer Lt. Ale Quibilan acknowledged that the harbor area, a combination of waterfront access, bar traffic, county park and cruise-ship tourists and employees, presents a unique situation.

Though many residents complain that Mondays and Thursdays, the nights that the cruise ships dock overnight, are the worst, Quibilan said the police department sees no spike in calls on those nights.

A middle ground?

Heresa said he would fully support a park curfew and increased police presence, and that he plans on offering a free shuttle to the cruise ships each night.

“I understand what these guys are looking at,” Heresa said of Gracey, Layne and other opponents.

In the end, however, Heresa said he can only be responsible for his property.

“You can’t blame me for inadequate (police presence),” he said. “If we are operating, I will have more than adequate security.”

Heresa also said his security, in addition to being an on-site deterrent, could be the first link to police when things get out of hand, and will stay on until at least 4 a.m.

“If Kaua’i police can’t control the park, how (are they) going to control it?” Gracey countered.

The decision: up to the commission, the people, or a loophole?

Liquor Control Commission Director Eric Honma said this particular application has generated more opposition from the community than any other he can recall.

“We’ve received about 90 letters, all in opposition,” he said.

Though Thursday’s hearing promises to be emotional, there’s a chance it could be over before it even begins. Sections 58 through 60 of the liquor laws of Hawai’i spell out two scenarios where the commission would have to reject the application based solely on public outcry.

The first is if opponents garner written opposition from 51 percent of all owners or lessees of record within a 500-foot radius of the proposed establishment. The second requires written opposition from 51 percent of all registered voters within the same radius. Because 40 of Banyan Harbor’s 148 units are timeshares, General Manager Chris Gampon said there are about 2,200 owners.

For this reason, opponents plan to go with the registered voters in the area, and Honma said the commission will abide by whatever format the protesters present. Even then, there are loopholes.

Layne has had difficulty obtaining a current list of registered voters in the area. He and other opponents have found at least 35 voters still registered within the 500-foot radius that have either died or moved away, some as long as three years ago. If these names are discounted, Layne said he’s got the 51 percent.

Honma said he didn’t know off hand what list the commission would go by.

“By statute, we are not able to make a determination of who is a registered voter in the area,” he said. That responsibility instead falls to the county clerk’s office, or the lieutenant governor’s office, neither of which were available at press time.

Despite the chance of losing critical percentage points on a technicality, Layne and others plan to make a strong case Thursday because the five-person commission can decide to reject the application regardless of the majority.

“The protest may not be sufficient enough to meet the majority, but it could be sufficient enough for the commission to deny the application,” Honma said.

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