Common Grounds causes stir

KILAUEA — Charles Roessler still remembers purchasing his 3-acre piece of agriculture land on Kuawa Road in 1977 shortly after Big Five sugar cane giant C. Brewer sold off much of their land in Kilauea.

Since then, Roessler has seen many changes to Kuawa Road, including the shrimp and guava farms that once operated on nearby lands and “a low-key snack shop” that was run by Kilauea Agronomics, where his son once worked.

But in recent months, Roessler and other residents have become concerned over a move by Common Grounds Kauai, a local “field-to-table” restaurant and food producer, to expand their business and hours of operation.

Roessler, like other neighboring residents, said he applauds efforts made by owner Cameron Christopher Jaeb to promote sustainable, organic practices. But he is worried the planned efforts will lead to further problems on the road they share.

“Though I continue to farm my land on a limited basis, I am not in good health today and fear that the further commercialization of Common Ground will destroy the quiet, rural atmosphere (my wife and I) have enjoyed for decades,” Roessler said in a letter to the Kauai County Planning Commission.

The proposal called for an extension in the restaurant’s hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the construction of a 1,200 square-foot building. It was approved by the Kauai Planning Commission last month following a nearly eight-hour public meeting, where both supporters and opponents made their voices heard.

“I’m sure we’ll make amends to what this community around us is asking,” Common Grounds Executive Chef Rodman Machado said during the June 12 meeting. “We’re just really up to keeping the energy positive and flowing in a good way. Extending our hours by three hours just gives us a lot more opportunities for us to give the community a little bit at a different time zone — a healthy dinner and healthy meal in the evening and a cool place to hang out.”

Jaeb, who owns the 46.59-acre property and Kuawa Road, said he has made past concessions with surrounding neighbors to reduce noise complaints and traffic along the road and wants to continue working with them as the business continues to grow.

“I’m confident that, if we’re given a chance, we can really do a good job with managing the traffic in a way that gets way better as far as the speed and the safety on that road is concerned,” Jaeb said.

Kilauea resident Gary Smith said in an e-mail to the Planning Commission that he supports Jaeb’s effort because he has “made a conscious decision to incorporate the goals of their business with the needs of the community.”

“Common Ground Restaurant is in sink or swim mode,” Smith said. “It is not a given as to whether it will survive even with expanded hours, however, our community owes to them at least a chance to try.”

Other residents, however, are not so sure.

A. Michelle Martinez and Suzette Dunning, who live next to Common Ground’s main entrance on Kuawa Road, said they are bothered by the noise and traffic generated by Common Ground-backed activities, including late-night events and exercise classes.

“At a time when Kilauea is already facing great change … we ask that the Commission take a very cautious and circumspect approach to any request that might further erode Kauai’s and Kilauea’s rural character,” Martinez and Dunning said in an e-mail.

Common Ground’s special use permit proposal, which was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission, also contained several conditions, including the paving, regrading or widening of Kuawa Road to meet county and Department of Public Works standards.

Common Grounds, which would also be charged with installing speed humps on Kuawa Road to address speed concerns, also has the option to develop an alternate business route.

The Planning Commission also agreed to limit late-night special functions by capping the maximum number of guests to 200, restricting the number of these events to no more than four each month, ending all these events by 10 p.m. and closing the venue by 11 p.m.

In all, Common Grounds would also have to complete the proposed new building no later than May 31, 2018, and be subject to annual Planning Commission evaluations.

 Planning Commissioner John Isobe, who voted an against a timeline restriction for the restaurant’s late-night events, said the Commission must “be ultra-careful about over-regulating a business, so a business, in fact, does not become a viable business.”

“At some point, we need to trust the applicant and hopefully this business can succeed and move forward,” Isobe said.

Planning Commissioner Amy Mendonca disagreed.

“In view of what that land is and the surrounding people, I have to say that we’re not restricting,” Mendonca said. “We’re trying to assist it to keep it within the intent of what that land is, which is agriculture.”

• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or


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