Coco Palms developers seek ‘delicate balance’

LIHUE — Developers seeking to rebuild the historic Coco Palms Resort will have to do a little extra legwork before any ground is broken.

Kauai County Historic Preservation Review Commissioners on Thursday gave their unanimous stamp of approval to current plans by Coco Palms Hui LLC to redevelop, restore and repair the Wailua hotel, which has been shuttered since Hurricane Iniki buffeted the island in 1992.

“We understand the sensitivity of this property, and we understand it is a delicate balance,” Coco Palms Hui LLC Principal Tyler Greene said. 

Before any county permits are issued for the project, the nine-member board agreed that developers must address all concerns raised by the state Historic Preservation Division, which is charged with monitoring changes to historic sites statewide. 

Among those sites is the Weuweu-Kawaiiki Fishpond, which runs through the Coco Palms Resort and was placed on the state Register of Historic Places in 2009.

“I’m really happy to see that the present developers are trying their best to keep, as much as they can, the essence of Coco Palms, because many people in the community want the Coco Palms to come on board,” County Historic Preservation Review Commissioner Danita Aiu said. “I want to see this come on board. I definitely don’t want to see a park — I don’t want to see this kind of stuff going on over there.” 

The commission’s recommendations now head to the county Planning Commission, which will meet on Tuesday to determine if the estimated $135 million project should move forward.

Not everyone is on board just yet. 

Susan Lebo, acting state Historic Preservation Division archaeology branch chief, said she and other department officials “believe the project will have an effect on archaeological properties and also has potential to effect historic architectural properties.”

“While the permit application states that no archaeological or historic properties will be affected by the project, SHPD does not concur with this assessment,” Lebo wrote in a Jan. 30 letter to county Planning Director Michael Dahilig. “Most of the proposed work on the property involves architectural resources, some of which are over 50 years old.” 

Before any county permits are issued, Coco Palms Resort developers must submit revised plans for any proposed work with potential to affect the historic fishpond, information on any federal permits that may be required, and a survey on all remaining architectural historic properties. 

State officials also asked developers to submit mitigation plans for the possible disturbance of iwi kupuna (ancient remains).

Coco Palms Resort contractors, monitored by Lawai-based staff from Cultural Surveys Hawaii, Inc., disturbed a human burial in August 2013 while a dust fence around the resort was being installed,  according to state Historic Preservation Division records. 

“This is a major project and there’s some really significant historic properties here,” state Historic Preservation Division Kauai lead archaeologist Mary Jane Naone said. “I think that doing the proper planning now at this point can save so much trouble down the road rather than just bulldozing the permit through and having to deal with the consequences of the impacts on the burial grounds or the lagoons. We don’t want to make any regrettable decisions.”

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