Last Iniki law falling

LIHUE — The Kauai Planning Commission unanimously approved Tuesday a bill to repeal the last surviving Iniki ordinance.

The repeal would place a barrier that could make it difficult to rebuild the iconic Coco Palms Resort.

“It’s time to close the chapter on this,” said Planning Director Michael Dahilig.

He said the bill would put an end to an exemption that allows developers to rebuild structures without the current, stricter health and safety standards.

A draft of the bill will be sent to the Kauai County Council for introduction, according to Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung.

After Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992, the council passed a set of laws to exempt fees and expedite permits.

In 1997, the council enacted Ordinance 716, deleting most exemptions, but still retaining a provision that allows for the restoration of non-conforming buildings or structures to their pre-Iniki condition.

Dahilig said Kauai has gone through two construction booms since the hurricane, and it’s about time the ordinance is repealed. The last development that benefited from the Iniki ordinance, he said, was Poipu’s Koa Kea Resort in 2005. Since then, no one has come forward with requests to use the law, he said.

About a month ago, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. sent a letter to the commission, attaching a draft bill to repeal Ordinance 716 and telling commissioners he would greatly appreciate their assistance in the “timely passage” of the bill.

“Nearly 21 years have passed since the destruction of that powerful storm, and ample time has been provided for such reconstruction efforts to occur,” Carvalho wrote. “It’s my firm belief that this ordinance is no longer necessary, and it is time to put this chapter in Kauai’s history solidly behind us.”

Earlier this year, the owners of Coco Palms let rebuilding permits expire without action, after holding them for eight years and being unable to find willing and able investors to rebuild the property similar to the way it was.

A few days after the permits expired on Jan. 25, the developers unsuccessfully sought an extension.

On June 5, county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka told The Garden Island that the owners of Coco Palms Resort, shut down since Iniki, could still seek rebuild under the Iniki ordinance.

“They’d have to utilize the same footprint that was existing prior to the hurricane,” she said. “Once this ordinance is repealed, that option is no longer available to them.”

However, she added, the developers are free to put a new permit application at any time before the commission for consideration — with or without the Iniki ordinance.

On Tuesday, architect Ron Agor suggested that should the ordinance pass, an amendment could be included to grandfather projects that have already received a stamp of approval from the commission.

Commissioner Jan Kimura asked if there are any project applications seeking exemptions based on the Iniki ordinance 21 years after the hurricane.

Dahilig said there are “things” that could “theoretically” be grandfathered, but he didn’t elaborate further.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@thegardenisland.com

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