LIHUE — When Ian Jung, the lawyer representing the Association of Apartment Owners of Hanalei Bay Resort pulled the microphone away from Jimit Mehta mid-sentence, it became clear that what they were discussing — the number of parking spaces at HBR — was a heated issue.
Mehta, whose company is HBR Enterprises LP, which owns the Happy Talk Lounge, was attempting to provide public testimony during last week’s Planning Commission meeting before Jung interjected.
Jung said that Mehta should not be providing testimony given that he is directly involved and not technically a “member of the public.” After disagreement by Nicholas McLean, one of the attorneys representing HBR Enterprises, and confirmation by county attorney, Nicholas Courson, Mehta was allowed the allotted three minutes to speak.
Tensions were high due to a decades-old parking lot debacle. When the resort was originally conceived in the early 1970s, the developer and county agreed that even though 228 parking stalls were required, that number would be extended to a total of 249 stalls.
Problem is, the resort only has some 160 marked stalls. The rest were never created, even after the AOAO took over the property years later.
“There’s never been compliance,” McLean said.
The issue is coming up again because Mehta, who with his partners, purchased Happy Talk and the Bali Hai restaurant in 2011, re-opened the lounge in 2016. Customers who stop by just for food and drinks are having trouble finding parking and generally aren’t interested in spending more money to use valet services.
While the business can validate, Mehta said he ends up with the bills for the “complimentary” parking that are “disproportinate to the overall parking usage at the resort,” he said during a follow-up interview on Monday.
In 2017, the AOAO received notice that it was still short 89 parking spaces and that it was also not combating an alleged issue of illegal “lockouts”— the resort is only approved for 134 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units. The condos, however, were designed in such a way that created potential “separate” units; thus, allegedly generating a more exacerbated parking issue.
To address the issues, on-site investigations were conducted and the alleged illegal modifications were reportedly brought into compliance, according to the planning department.
The AOAO also presented a parking lot draft plan with all 249 stalls, including additional paved spaces, “lawn” spaces and “theatre-style” spaces (aka valet parking).
But Mehta vehemently objected to the plan based upon a number of factors.
It’s “seriously flawed,” he said during public testimony.
“It’s one thing when you see something on paper” but it “doesn’t work in reality,” he said.
A point Mehta addressed at last week’s meeting is that the cars couldn’t fit in the “lawn” parking, which would be located in between two of the resort’s buildings. Not only would the parking be too tight, he said, but owners would also have lights shining into their properties on a consistent basis.
He said there would also be issues with the proposed theater-style parking stalls that would run perpendicular to the paved stalls.
Additionally, the plan has problems with respect to the “fire code,” which needs a 20-foot clearance to enable fire truck access, McLean said.
But George Costa, the resort’s general manager who has been on staff for the past eight months, said he doesn’t foresee an issue. He’s there on a daily basis and sees cars entering and leaving the lot without any trouble, he said during public testimony.
“There’s more than enough space and clearance,” he said.
Moreover, he said they have no problem getting fire trucks and EMTs to the buildings when there is an emergency.
But one of the most pressing issues that Mehta said he has is that he hasn’t been offered an opportunity to work with the AOAO to come up with a more viable parking solution.
“Our client hasn’t been a party to most of those negotiations,” McLean said.
Mehta said he’d like to see a structured parking lot that’s potentially two stories, or parking in an area that “makes more sense” like abandoned tennis courts.
“That is the only solution that will last over time,” he said on Monday.
One thing is certain, the resort must come into compliance, said Commissioner Glenda Nogami-Streufert.
“It’s not a new requirement, it’s something that’s been there for a while,” she said regarding the number of parking spaces. “If it was originally intended to have 249, that’s the issue.”
Planning Department Director Ka‘aina Hull agreed that the AOAO and HBR Enterprises are under violation and said that it’s up to both parties to figure it out since they each “share entitlement.”
“Both are responsible to ensure parking requirements are met,” he said.
It’s a civil dispute between two parties and the department is simply attempting to get them into compliance, Hull said.
For now, Hull recommended a 90-day deferral that was subsequently approved, so that the parties could try and work out an arrangement.
He added that he hopes “something happens.”
Coco Zickos, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.