Commission made right call on Coco Palms

The County of Kauai Planning Commission made the right call when it voted 6-0 to approve project development plans and permits that could finally lead to demolishing and rebuilding Coco Palms.

The much-loved and popular resort has sat ugly, vacant and deteriorating, an iconic eyesore, since it was battered by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Over the years, there have been talks and rumors and rumblings of developing the resort. There were reports that something was about to happen with Coco Palms and perhaps, it could reclaim its past glory. But it didn’t happen. Despite potential and promise, nothing happened. Not that it has been without value. It became a tourist attraction of sorts, a place where visitors can hand over $20, join a walking tour and hear about the resort’s history and famous celebrities who slept there, and about famous scenes from “Blue Hawaii” that were shot there. It’s a place where our guests drive by, and mom or dad explains to the kids that Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby and even Kauai’s Larry Rivera graced the lounge there.

The talks of developing the site, rebuilding a new Coco Palms came and went. Every now and then, they found new life as more ideas were pitched. But nothing happened.

What got in the way? Oh, the usual. Politics. Price tags. Permits. Personalities. Trying to please everyone while pleasing no one. Fears it would add to an already bad traffic situation in Kapaa. Folks who don’t like change, who want Kauai to be the Kauai it used to be before the sugar industry went away and before it needed tourists to spend money here.

It seemed we were going to be stuck with a few more decades of hearing stories about Coco Palms.

Then Coco Palms Hui LLC based in Honolulu rose from the crowd. It was serious about putting a new resort there. It wasn’t just a Hail Mary pass to the end zone. This wasn’t about only pushing ahead if they got a deal. These guys meant business. More and more, as they spoke of a $135 million, 350-room resort, some locals, not all, began to get excited at the thought of a new resort and what it could mean for Kauai. Yes, there would be more traffic. But more jobs while building it and more jobs to operate it. An expanded economy. More property taxes for the county. And certainly, more celebrity sightings.

It seemed something was in the works to stall it when the Planning Commission didn’t have enough for a quorum earlier this year to vote on whether to approve these plans for Coco Palms (this was after the developers and their staff flew in from Honolulu). And then, at another meeting the commission decided it needed more information about traffic impacts and put off a vote (Again, after developers and their staff flew in from Honolulu).

But last week, it surprised many with its unanimous vote in support of these plans. It was the right vote. Something must be done with the site. It can’t sit there for another two decades because we fear rebuilding Coco Palms will mean increased traffic. 

Conditions approved by the commission require Coco Palms developers to apply for necessary demolition permits within the next four months and complete demolition work within six months once permits are issued. Construction permits, meanwhile, must be submitted within the next year. If all goes as planned, work on Coco Palms Resort could begin within the next several months. The resort could be open in 2017. Decades of waiting and wondering could be over.

The main concerns about the project, the traffic it will generate, are valid, but not enough to prevent a new Coco Palms from rising. 

The developers are taking steps to minimize congestion. They have agreed to fully fund and create two separate shuttle services from the hotel to Lihue Airport and Wailua destinations; create a bike-share program for nearby commutes; and bear some of the costs for future traffic and pedestrian impacts. They also plan to construct 30 workforce housing units on a property recently purchased on Haleilio Road less than a block away from the hotel. They will give another $10,000 to assist with the construction of a new bus stop along Kuhio Highway in the Wailua area.

The area’s historic significance can’t be dismissed, and it isn’t. Coco Palms developers must contribute $50,000 to assist the Planning Department’s historic preservation mission through its efforts to perpetuate the cultural and historic significance of the Wailua/Waipouli region, including the creation of educational programs and signage. Developers must also contribute another $50,000 to the County of Kauai to assist the county with its current placemaking efforts, including moku (district) and ahupuaa signage of the Wailua area. 

While the Planning Commission may have been under scrutiny and some pressure to reject development plans for Coco Palms and leave it alone, they made the right call and Kauai will be better for it.

The main concerns about the project, the traffic it will generate, are valid, but not enough to prevent a new Coco Palms from rising.”

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