LIHUE — In what marked their first bid to rebuild the Coco Palms Resort, developers from Coco Palms Hui LLC were greeted on Tuesday with a mixture of praise and skepticism before the county board charged with approving the building permits for their $135 million restoration project.
The County Planning Commission unanimously deferred any decisions on the project until their 9 a.m. meeting on Feb. 10, but not before residents and visitors alike shared their two cents on renewed efforts to restore and reconstruct the Wailua resort, which has been closed since Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai in 1992.
Wailua resident Robin Fricke has lived across the street from Coco Palms for the past five years and said he understands the desire to bring the well-known resort back to its former glory. He acknowledged, however, that its current state would not allow for that to happen.
“It seems to me that this property can’t continue the way it has for the past 15 years,” Fricke said. “I’ve driven by it and thought, ‘What a beautiful place. It’d be wonderful for people to have it up and running like it was.’ But in the condition that it is, it’s a public nuisance. I’d love to see it rebuilt, but rebuilt right.”
As it is currently proposed, the Coco Palms Resort by Hyatt would consist of 273 hotel rooms and 77 suites using the hotel’s existing footprint — a slight reduction from the 398 to 403 rooms that existed in the original hotel.
Agor Architects LLC owner Ron Agor said the three guest room buildings along Kuhio Highway will be gutted and rebuilt.
Other well-known buildings, including the King and Queen Lagoon Buildings, Prince Cottages, Queen’s Cottages, and King’s Cottages will be re-built and raised above the ground to comply with federal flood requirements.
“When we look at the history of the property and everything that has happened here, it’s not an easy project, and we understand that, in the midst of this project, there are different items, issues and challenges that all need to be balanced,” Coco Palms Hui LLC Principal Tyler Greene said. “That all being said, though, we didn’t shy away from the idea of approaching this because of what Coco Palms represents to us and what I think Coco Palms represents to the community of Kauai — to us, it’s aloha.”
Agor said four dedicated hotel entrance and exit points, including one that is accessed on Apana Road through Haleilio Road and two one-way entrance and exit points along Kuhio Highway, will help alleviate traffic along Kuhio Highway even after state Department of Transportation officials complete plans to turn it into a four-lane highway.
The existing entrance along Kuamoo Road, Agor said, will be moved a few hundred feet up the road to prevent cars from bottlenecking near the Kuhio Highway intersection.
An existing driveway a few hundred feet away on Kuamoo Road, he added, will also be improved and widened to access a proposed cultural center toward the back of the hotel, which would provide luau activities to hotel guests twice a week.
“The benefits of having these multiple access points is that we reduce the conflicts that come from left-turning vehicles turning across traffic or shared turns that are happening in the same location,” SSFM Traffic Engineer Mike Packard told county planning commissioners.
Kumu Hula Beverly Apana Muraoka, who lives in Wailua Houselots and grew up in the shadow of the Coco Palms Resort, said she would like developers to install Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevators in the resort, upgrade Apana Road, one of the main hotel entrances, and address the sewage issues in the area.
“That has been a terrible, terrible thing when it has not been sufficiently taken care of,” Muraoka said about the sewer problems. “The visitors suffer and we local owners suffer from the smell and the stench. I’m not saying I’m against the project, but I’m saying these are conditions that need to be considered.”
Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said Coco Palms developers should be required to construct a pedestrian overpass over Kuhio Highway between the hotel and Wailua Beach, as well as formulate a traffic mitigation plan for the entire Royal Coconut Coast region.
“Today’s traffic congestion is clearly due to past planning decisions that allowed development before first establishing a land transportation system capable of handling the increased traffic,” Yukimura said. “That congestion affects all of us and everything — residents, visitors, economy and quality of life. We should have learned by now how costly and dysfunctional it is to allow development that will generate additional traffic congestion before there is a plan to address existing congestion.”
Some supporters, however, are optimistic that developers will be able to bring the aging hotel back to life.
Jill Swanson, of Sierra Vista, Arizona, said she intends to bring three generations of her family to Kauai once the hotel reopens so she can share her past Coco Palms experiences with them.
“The stories told are that the resort, the people and the ambience all make you feel as if you were a part of the Hawaiian history and that you have been embraced by the Coco Palms family,” Swanson wrote in a letter to Planning Commissioners. “Now, if the resort has accomplished this, you would have return guests for many years and also have those guests spreading the word about how wonderful this resort is. To me, this speaks volumes — it says, ‘Hey, we have a good thing going. Let’s continue and keep up the good work.’”