Coconut grove safe, for now

LIHUE — The Kauai Planning Commission on Tuesday deferred for two months any action related to a request from Longs Drugs CVS to build a new store on a protected coconut grove in Waipouli.

Thanks to a mistake by representatives of the nationwide pharmacy chain, dozens of centenary coconut trees get to live a few more months — or until they naturally die off if the commission denies Longs Drugs’ request.

Longs Drugs is proposing a 31,252-square-foot store (including a 8,244-square-foot mezzanine) and a 97-stall cement parking lot covering the majority of a 3.57-acre Waipouli coconut grove protected by the county’s Exceptional Tree Ordinance.

The grove has 103 trees, and 82 are thought to have been planted in 1911. The plans for the project include killing 45 centenary trees that fall within the “improvements.” Additionally, two juvenile trees and 15 seedlings within the project would be relocated. Developers intend to plant coconut seedlings in the parking lot to recreate the plantation look of the area.

The commission was supposed to entertain Longs Drugs’ request for permits. But Plantation Hale resident Deborah Nantais, who lives 70 feet from the proposed project, filed a petition to intervene.

Planning Director Michael Dahilig sent the commission a memorandum stating he had no opposition to Nantais’ request, and had the commission approved it, the matter would likely be referred to a hearings officer.

Longs Drugs did not file with the commission, within seven days of Tuesday’s hearing, an affidavit that they had sent proper notice to at least 85 percent of property owners and tenants within a 300-foot radius, as required by the county.

Thus, the commission deferred the issue to Oct. 8, and Longs Drugs will have to pay for republication costs.

When the Longs Drugs’ request for permits comes around in two months, it will be facing opposition from some area residents and businesses.

Besides receiving nearly 30 pieces of written testimony Tuesday in opposition to the project, commissioners heard six public speakers — some representing a large portion of the community — opposed to the new store.

Only architect Avery Youn spoke in support of the project, saying that during next meeting the developers will add a set of conditions to mitigate concerns.

Nantais is one of 160 owners at Plantation Hale. She has concerns with increased flooding, crime, noise and traffic, and loss of cultural heritage.

“Think about the devaluation of our property,” she said.

Plantation Hale General Manager Eric Napoleon said he is opposed to project. John Dupont, a manager at Plantation Hale for 20 years, said the resort is “very much opposed” to the store. Margareth Palazolo was another Plantation Hale owner who spoke against the project.

“This is a precedent we don’t want to start,” said Bob Bartolo, of the Kapaa Business Association. The area is zoned hotel and resort, and yet a large retail store to service visitors and residents is being proposed, he said.

Bartolo added he understands Longs Drugs had a rent increase on its current location in Kapaa, but this should not be the basis for the to grant a use permit.

Rayne Regush, of the Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Association, said “Longs is wrong” in the proposed location, and cited a series of inconsistencies with the project and the county’s comprehensive zoning ordinance.

The new store would occupy a lot between Aleka Loop and Kuhio Highway, in front of the Courtyard by Marriott. The store and its cement parking lot would cover most of the lot.

Death to trees and taxes

About two months ago, Jerry Nishek, general manager of Kauai Nursery and Landscaping, said at an Arborist Committee meeting that the trees, at 103 years old, are starting to die.

The project calls for replacing all mature trees with seedlings.

Nishek, who prepared the Arborist Report in Longs Drugs’ application, said most of the new trees for the project would come from Kauai Nursery.

Pat Cowan, construction director at KZ DevCo, said at that same meeting that replanting a row of trees on the property would recreate the same plantation-style feel of the area.

In 1976, the grove was protected under the Exceptional Tree Ordinance. But in 1981, the grove was subdivided into two lots, and its designation is no longer consistent with the ordinance.

The council is currently working on Bill 2493 to bring the grove back to protected status, in line with the original ordinance’s intent.

Such status, however, does not preclude the developer from replacing the old trees with younger ones. And because the grove, not the trees, is designated exceptional, the developers may be able to replace the trees with seedlings and still apply for a state tax exemption that could give them up to $3,000 in tax deductions per tree every two years — that’s up to $154,500 each year in tax deductions.

Deputy County Attorney Jodi Sayegusa said at a council meeting three weeks ago that the bill, proposed by the administration, is “just merely a housekeeping matter.” But a few council members questioned the timing of the bill.

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

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