LIHUE — The county is suing the owners of a vacation home in Wailua for allegedly using the property as a transient vacation rental in violation of county zoning ordinances.
The Kauai County Planning Department filed a civil claim last Friday against Greg Allen — the developer behind Hokua Place, a proposed 769-unit housing development near the Kapaa Middle School — and his wife Joanne in Kauai’s Fifth Circuit Court.
The civil suit seeks to compel the Allens to pay $130,000 in fines levied against them by the county for using their four-bedroom house on the banks of the Wailua River as a transient vacation rental.
According to the lawsuit, the planning department has been unsuccessfully attempting to force the Allens to stop renting their property for at least the last 18 months.
The county formally notified the Allens in June 2017 that their rental operation on Wailua Road “was unlawful and informed them that they could be subject to fines if they did not cease and desist operations within 15 days,” according to the planning department documents filed with the civil complaint.
Two months later, the planning department issued another cease and desist order, this time ordering the Allens to pay a $10,000 fine for continuing to rent out the home. The Allens appealed the decision, and a hearing to contest the matter was held before a planning department officer last year.
The hearing officer sided with the planning department’s request that the Allens be fined the initial $10,000, plus an additional $120,000 for renting out their Wailua vacation home over the course of the previous year “in blatant disregard of the department’s notice and order.”
The Allens essentially chose to disregard the decision. In an interview Friday, Greg Allen called the planning department “overzealous,” said its proceedings were unfair and insisted that his lawyer was not allowed to present his case during the hearing.
When asked whether the county’s lawsuit will affect how he conducts his business, Allen was noncommittal but said he has no immediate plans to stop renting the place out. The 2,000-square-foot house on a quarter acre fronting Wailua River is currently available for rent at $800 a night.
“In America, people still have land rights,” Allen said. “And sometimes it is necessary to go through this process in order to ensure that the rights of the landowners and the government are fairly represented.”
According to the lawsuit, the planning department invested a substantial amount of time and energy investigating the Allens.
In order to prove the house belonged to the Allens and that it was outside the area designated by the county for TVRs, an inspector with the department compared an advertisement for the Wailua River rental property with county records, Google Earth and a proprietary image database the county subscribes to.
Later, after the county issued its first cease and desist order to the Allens, the planning department inspector set up a “sting operation,” in which the inspector called the Allens using an alias and booked an eight-night stay in the house for about $6,700.
County officials did not respond to a request for comment in time to be included in this article, but Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami issued the following statement regarding the case last month.
“When illegal TVR operators blatantly break the law, they disrespect our community, our people, and our island,” Kawakami said. “It is the responsibility of the County of Kauai to aggressively monitor and enforce the law, and the Planning Department will be utilizing new technology and innovative methods to identify illegal TVR operators. The time is now for our community to take back their neighborhoods.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.