Delay of Iniki building codes approved

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council approved a measure Wednesday that Coco Palms Resort developers say will give them enough time to obtain building permits and begin restoring the well-known Wailua hotel.

That bill, approved by a 6-1 vote, was amended by a council committee last week to provide a two-year delay on repealing the last remaining building ordinance instituted after Hurricane Iniki struck the island more than 21 years ago.

The ordinance, according to county documents, allows for “a legally nonconforming structure to be reconstructed to its condition prior to Hurricane Iniki.”  

Leaders from developer Coco Palms Hui, LLC said they favored the delay because it would exempt the project from some county setback and height ordinances approved since 1992.  

“We are very grateful and appreciate their efforts to give us a 24-month sunset window,” Chad Waters, principal at Honolulu-based developer Coco Plams Hui, LLC, said by phone Wednesday after the decision was made. “We’re going to work on this as efficiently as possible and put all necessary time and resources behind this process.”

Although specific project timelines are still up in the air, Waters said he and other investors will be officially naming the hotel’s general manager during the first week of January.

Attorney Michael Belles said Coco Palms Hui leaders will provide the council with quarterly reports on redevelopment efforts.

Some councilmembers, however, said they had some reservations.

“We have every right to mistrust, because there’s a long history of mistrust that is built up in our community and our residents, but I realize that the mistrust can continue or it can stop,” Vice Chair Mason Chock said. “We have an opportunity here to build some trust and relationships.”

Councilman Gary Hooser, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the bill, said he was concerned developers were hesitant to create a community fund as a collateral for their redevelopment efforts, or include a clause on the property deed limiting operations to hotel purposes only.

“We’re offering the developer something of value and getting a promise to rebuild a dream,” he said.

Councilman Tim Bynum agreed with Hooser and said he was also concerned with parking and traffic issues generated by the hotel as well as tentative plans for the hotel’s Seashell Restaurant on the other side of Kuhio Highway.

“My heart is saying, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s give it another shot,’ and it’s so compelling because of all the history behind the Coco Palms and how it’s unique to each individual, but intellect is telling me, ‘Caution, caution, caution,’” he said.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who penned a letter to the Planning Commission in June asking commissioners to repeal the ordinance, said the council made “a reasonable decision” based on plans by Coco Palms Hui developers to revitalize the property.

“We are hopeful that they will be successful in bringing this property back into useful life and look forward to continued collaboration on the opportunities to preserve and perpetuate the culture and history of this area through the process,” Carvalho wrote in an email.

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