Conservation land not for rent

State gives homeowners June deadline


HA‘ENA — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has issued notices to 16 property owners in Ha‘ena to halt alleged unauthorized use of multi-million-dollar homes as vacation rentals.

Most of the 16 homes are on makai, or on the ocean side, of Kuhio Highway, from the YMCA’s Camp Naue to Limahuli Stream. Most are clustered around Makua Beach, also known as Tunnels.

A condition in the state Conservation District Use Application, which a property owner secures before building in the state’s conservation area, stipulates a single-family home cannot be used for rental or any other commercial purposes, Peter Young, chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said in a March 23 letter to alleged violators.

In one case, the cease-and-desist order could force the owner to sell a property worth millions, and may be the scenario facing other supposed violators as well, said Gary Stice, a Kaneohe, O‘ahu resident who received one of the letters.

But Stice said the language in the CDUA he secured for his home 24 years ago is “not well-worded or specific.”

“The statement is unclear,” he said. “It says only rental or commercial uses, which could imply commercial rentals and other uses.”

In other words, he believes the condition was meant to prevent the construction of a store or welding shop on the coastline and was not intended to prevent the use of homes as rentals.

“I think it was very unfair that we are being given this very quick notice,” Stice said.

Should the property owners — two from Hanalei, one from Koloa, one from Kaneohe on O‘ahu and 12 from the Mainland — fail to cease operations by June 30, they could face fines of up to $2,000 a day, in line with state law, Young said.

Sam Lemmo, the administrator of Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands of the DLNR, said agency law enforcement officers posted the notices at the properties on March 27.

Because the investigation is continuing, Lemmo said yesterday, he could not comment on any details.

Young said Lemmo’s office had received complaints about the alleged unauthorized vacation rental uses, and that the uses are not allowed by department rules.

Young’s letter was sent to Kaua‘i Sen. Gary Hooser and Mayor Bryan Baptiste, the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the DLNR’s Conservation and Resources Enforcement Division, the Kaua‘i County Planning Department, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Ha‘ena and Hanalei Neighborhood Board.

North Shore community leader Carl Imparato said the DLNR expressed its desire to clamp down on alleged violations last fall.

“DLNR sent to the county a letter on Sept. 29, (2006) informing it would be looking into complaints about illegal vacation rentals in the CDUA area, the shoreline area,” Imparato said.

In the letter, DLNR asked Baptiste’s administration to identify the “illegal vacation rentals,” Imparato said.

Imparato, president of the Hanalei-Ha‘ena Community Association, said the organization of 100 paying members wants the alleged violators to follow the law.

“We have taken the stand that anyone who wants a CDUA permit should be aware of the law that prevents rental uses on the property, and that when the law is enforced, those people can’t feel they weren’t made aware of it,” Imparato said.

When the CDUA application issue came up, the organization “asked for the opportunity to review (the applications),” he said.

“We asked that the state, including whether to grant CDUA permits, explicitly state the restrictions against vacation rentals, because that is part of the law,” Imparato said.

If investigators determine the violations occurred, the group “would ask that strong penalties be imposed.”

On the other hand, Imparato said he wants to be open-minded: “These are allegations. The recipients may not be involved with any unauthorized use of their property.”

Stice said he is not breaking any laws.

“I think it is unclear whether or not the CDUA refers to the residential rentals,” he said. “I believe the original intent was to prevent the establishment of a commercial use on the shoreline (with stores or industrial-use businesses).”

Stice said in his view, “the language is not clear as to exclude a residential rental on the property.”

While saying his extended family uses the home as a beachhouse on visits to Kaua‘i, he declined to publicly comment on how the home is commercially used, except to say the revenues generated help to pay for a high mortgage and high property tax bills.

“I have had the property for 24 years, and I cannot afford to live there all the time, because my property tax is (high),” he said.

He said his roots are Hawai‘i-based and that the actions against him seem almost punitive.

“We are a local family,” he said. “We are not from somewhere else.”

The DLNR notices were sent to property owners in: Boise, Idaho; Provo, Utah; Beverly Hills, Calif.; Kaneohe, Hawai‘i; Hanalei, Hawai‘i; Carlsbad, Calif.; Koloa, Hawai‘i; Newport Beach, Calif.; Los Gatos, Calif.; San Carlos, Calif.; Beverly Hills, Calif.; Medford, Ore.; Occidental, Calif.; Danville, Calif.; and Huntington Beach, Calif.

“Most of the expensive vacation rentals are run by off-island people,” said Ray Chuan, a government watchdog and a resident of Hanalei, where vacation rentals are found. “And some have neon lights on them. They are being basically managed by Realtors.”

The homes believed to be in violation are owned by individuals, couples, families, family trusts and what appears to be a hui, or a group of investors.

Stice said he takes offense to criticism the current use of his property is “causing a housing crisis on Kaua‘i, which to me is utterly insane.”

Critics have said the spreading use of vacation rentals outside of the county’s visitor destination areas — Princeville, east Kaua‘i, Lihu‘e, Po‘ipu and Koloa and parts of west Kaua‘i near Kapalawai — is changing neighborhoods for the worse.

Critics also say the vacation rentals have significantly reduced the number of affordable rentals for locals, but vacation rental owners say their properties enhance neighborhoods and spur the growth of service industries and generate jobs.

The Kaua‘i County Council is working on legislation to better regulate the vacation rental industry.

The law currently allows vacation rentals in VDA areas, but is silent on whether they are allowed in areas outside of them.

The North Shore has seen an explosion of vacation rentals in recent years, and has spurred interest for similar uses of homes in other areas of


• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or

by Amanda C. Gregg – THE GARDEN ISLAND

What began as burning trash on the North Shore quickly turned into a nightmare scorching 50-plus acres. It took firefighters eight hours to extinguish it yesterday morning.

The fire was started Saturday night by Wainiha resident Ray “Kuna” Harada, Jr., county officials said.

Harada was cited for illegal burning after he admitted to police officers that he was burning rubbish when the fire got out of control.

The property’s co-owner, Keith Robinson, said he was disheartened and angry over the loss.

“It’s my personal opinion that there was absolutely no cause to be burning rubbish in that particular area,” Robinson said.

“I plan to look a little further into trespassing charges.”

Firefighters received a call around 6 p.m. Saturday informing them of a brush fire that began on private land owned on the mauka side of Wainiha Powerhouse Road.

Rescue specialists from the Hanalei, Kapa‘a and Lihu‘e fire stations responded to the fire, said Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman.

Around 7 p.m., an Inter Island helicopter assisted the Kaua‘i Fire Department by making water drops.

The fire was extinguished around 2 a.m. yesterday morning, Daubert said.

After a long day of pounding fence posts, Robinson, 65, was called out by his brother and arrived on-scene around midnight to see the blaze firsthand, he said.

“I dashed over to Wainiha and then climbed up a mountain in the middle of the night, carrying a backpack with water,” he said, emphasizing that by assisting the firefighters, he was merely “helping polish off the last remnants” of the work the KFD had already completed.

“The fire department did a fantastic job,” Robinson said. “I never would have expected them to be able to stretch hoses all the way to the 300- or 400-foot level.”

Working in the dark, firefighters used flashlights and dragged fire hoses roughly one-half mile up the mountain, Acting Battalion Chief Bill Quinlan said.

Emergency crews included off-duty firefighters who relieved those who had been fighting the fire for hours.

Robinson, who fought a larger fire on the same property in the mid-1970s, said had stronger winds been present, he believes yesterday’s blaze would have been far worse.

The previous fire on the same property was caused by a downed powerline, he said.

“This time, things were a lot tamer,” he said.

“If a tradewind had been blowing powerfully instead of the quiet wind we had, that fire would have engulfed some of the rarest plants in Hawai‘i. It was going up to the upper cliffs which has extremely rare vegetation.”

Thankfully, Robinson added, a rainstorm hit early yesterday morning, about 40 minutes after fire department left, guaranteeing the flames wouldn’t flare up.

“It soaked everything,” he said. “Although it would have been nice if it had come four hours earlier.”

No structures were damaged in the fire, according to county officials.

“(My brother) Bruce and I would like to express our deepest thanks to the Kaua‘i Fire Department for its extremely skilled, aggressive and efficient work,” Robinson said. “It was brilliant considering the terrain, which is very steep.”

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or


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