‘Glamping’ plan has Princeville residents up in arms

  • Contributed by Starwood Capital

    A portion of a golf course at Princeville may be converted into a luxury campground.

PRINCEVILLE — A proposal by the Miami investment firm redeveloping the former Princeville resort and adjoining Makai Golf Club has stirred new controversy by proposing a 50-unit luxury camping resort that would be built, to open in 2022, on three holes of one of the property’s two golf courses.

The proposal, which has still not been announced publicly, was disclosed by media coverage in late August. It has drawn vicious attacks from Princeville residents who, among other things, accuse Starwood Capital Group, the investment firm, with threatening local homeowners.

Eighty-seven Princeville residents joined a contentious, Thursday-afternoon Zoom meeting at which one resident, Lorrie Mull, branded the project as “unconscionable” and “incredibly problematic.”

Resident Mary Paterson contended that another resident, Mark Hall, who works for East West Partners, the firm developing the project for Starwood, had been “fed to the wolves,” and was being paid to advocate for the project even though building it in Princeville would be “a travesty.”

The new resort would offer glamping — short for “glamorous camping” — in luxury tents in a complex that would also have a restaurant, spa and commercial building. Nightly rates would be in the $500-and-up range.

The resort would be built on just over 50 acres currently included in three of the nine holes of the Woods Course, a layout mostly used by budget-conscious local golfers. The course and a more upscale 18-hole layout make up the Makai Golf Club. The golf properties together occupy about 290 acres that has remained open space under terms of a three-paragraph document signed in 1972.

The document — technically called a dedication letter — guarantees that the golf course land is to remain open space until February 2026. At that point, however, the dedication expires, theoretically opening up a vast swath of Princeville to new development.

“The idea is to create a very-attractive-looking tent structure that will be well immersed into the landscape and really fit into the North Shore of Kaua‘i,” said Hall. The glamping units would have an average of 460 square feet. While most of the units would have a single king-sized bed, others might be large enough for families to be guests.

The plan also includes a new, 80-to-100-seat restaurant, a very large “event tent,” as well as massage facilities and a “commercial building” whose exact purposes were not described.

East West said they plan to open the glamping resort in the first or second quarter of 2022. The “commercial space” is likely to take 12 months to build, and the glamping units six months. Residents objected that the schedule means that construction noise and other problems could begin sometime in 2021.

It remains unclear, however, how long it would take East West and Starwood to negotiate the county planning process. Aggressive resistance is expected. Al Albergate, president of the Princeville Community Association, said it has retained counsel, and will disclose the association’s position on the legality of the glamping project at another community meeting tentatively set for Saturday, Sept. 26. Several residents, including attorneys and non-attorneys, said protracted litigation is almost certain.

The 1972 document has remained little known until the last few weeks. Princeville residents have said they were never made aware of the expiration of the open-space guarantee when they purchased their homes. For a variety of technical legal reasons, the document does not appear to have been discovered in hundreds of title searches for Princeville homes over the last four decades.

Starwood Capital has said it can move forward immediately with construction of the glamping resort under terms of the 1972 letter, which permits the acreage to be used for golf or “ancillary recreational uses.”

The document in question is a mere three paragraphs. It was originally executed by the Eagle County Development Corp., based in Colorado, the original developer of Princeville. In 1980, a one-paragraph amendment conveyed the development rights to the Princeville Corp.

As it stands, the 1972 letter applies to all land that makes up the total of 27 holes on two golf courses. On Thursday, Starwood’s representatives said the company is willing to execute a new determination letter permanently placing the 18-hole course that is the principle component of the Makai Golf Club into open-space status. However, the company has apparently not taken action to execute that new determination.

The Thursday meeting’s participants included several residents who are either practicing or retired attorneys. They attacked Starwood’s interpretation of the language an inaccurate use of the word “ancillary.”

The arrangement is unusual among planned golf-course communities, land-use experts said, because the Princeville at Hanalei Community Association is powerless to prevent development on the golf course acreage after Feb. 28, 2026, even though dozens — if not hundreds — of nearby homes have been thought for decades to be golf-course properties permanently immune to development intrusion.

Residents complained that property values and neighborhood cohesion would be destroyed. Several said they have homes on the market and that showings have dried up entirely as word has gotten out about the possible resort development.

Because it would add 50 resort lodging units — even if they are tent-like structures — to the North Shore, it would amount to the new largest hotel project there in decades.

Will Little, an East West employee, countered that Starwood’s lawyers believe the glamping resort falls squarely within the meaning of “ancillary uses.” “We think we can create something that is absolutely spectacular,” he said.

But it was clear as the meeting ended after about three contentious hours that litigation over what “ancillary” means and whether the glamping resort can be developed legally either before the 1972 determination letter expires or afterward. Years of litigation could stall the project indefinitelty.

“Under your logic,” Mull contended, “you could put a brothel out there and it would be ‘ancillary.’”

Questions were also raised about Starwood’s financial situation. In September, Starwood lost a battle to retain control over a portfolio of shopping-center properties after it defaulted on payments for $1.6 billion in debt it took on to acquire the properties. Coverage of the default in The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets indicated that Starwood’s credit had been compromised in the failure.

Little responded that the shopping-mall debacle involved a corporate component of Starwood that is not involved in the Princeville projects.

Starwood has declined to comment in most respects on the project for several weeks. On Thursday, a public-relations firm that represents the company released a brief statement.

“With regards to the project, we continue to have conversations with our neighbors in Princeville. We are going forward with Princeville,” said spokesman Tom Johnson. “There is no effect at all” from shopping-mall-debt default. He said Starwood does not “have any additional comment beyond that at this time.”

Several residents also said they interpreted comments from Jason Cruce, a Los Angeles-based Starwood vice president who joined the meeting, as threatening. Cruce made the remarks when he tried to address the issue of whether Princeville property values would drop if the glamping resort is developed and the sense of open space on much of the Woods Course is destroyed.

Cruce said bluntly: “We’re trying to come up with a solution that is mutually beneficial to everyone as much as possible. I’m very much aware that everyone might not come out a winner.”

The glamping units, said Cruce, Hall and Will Little, another East West executive, will be tent-like, with full bathrooms and possibly thatched roofs. They would not have kitchens, but each would have a barbeque fire pit in front for cooking. The pits would be fired by locally sourced firewood, which led many residents to question whether the resort would be acceptable from either a fire-safety, air-pollution or noise perspective.

Starwood, contended resident Andy White, “is simply asking us who are homeowners to pay in our loss of value to supplement their development efforts — their profit margins. You’re asking me, Jason, to literally give up my equity so that you can profit. I find that absolutely abhorrent.”

Opponents of the glamping project contended that the resort is merely a “place holder” so Starwood can start developing the golf-course land without waiting for the 2026 expiration of the open-space-guarantee document. The Starwood and East West officials said the resort would require construction of substantial infrastructure, including foundations, walkways, electric lines, water service and sewers.

If the glamping resort is constructed but fails as a business venture, and the open-space guarantee ends in 2026, contended Tom Mull, another resident, Starwood would be, in effect, using the time between now and 2026 to start work on a development that would not otherwise be permitted to go into construction.

The nearby former Princeville Resort hotel is being redeveloped by Starwood to open sometime in 2022 as 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, a luxury spa resort. It will retain the same room count — 252 — as the former Princeville Resort, Starwood officials told the meeting on Thursday.

Hall said the glamping resort hopes to appeal, in particular, to millennials. “It is our role to create an environment in which people can enjoy the outside,” said Little. “There are people of all demographics who are looking to escape the hustle and bustle.”

Brad Cheatum, another resident, responded: “I don’t think you’re going to be able to control the noise levels,” he argued. “You say millennials. I know what they like to do at night and it’s not quiet. How are you going to compensate the owners of all the residences that surround it?”

•••

Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public-relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.

25 Comments
  1. randy kansas September 20, 2020 1:04 am Reply

    sounds legal to me and the documents speak for themselves…..


    1. Vivian September 20, 2020 12:53 pm Reply

      I have personally glamped. This is the idea of the wealthy to introduce kids to camping. The resort becomes a screaming playground of kids and teens. Late night roaming with bonfire smells and an attendant to oversee. The popular food trucks allowed and outdoor music and big screen movies. This does not mean it works in Princeville .
      Dont forget pole lights for roadways and paths with toilets flushing from each jurt and main restrooms. Babysitters so adults can go out craft room to entertain children. Not Kauai I know!


  2. Wally Roberts September 20, 2020 3:49 am Reply

    Hope they set aside the correct percentage of the “glamping” tents for the homeless.


    1. Liberal voter September 20, 2020 2:22 pm Reply

      The correct percentage should be100% of the tents are for the homeless (or houseless as TGI now puts it for some reason). We are proud liberals and we care. So what if they are in our backyards? Love wins. We need to be liberal warriors and lead by example!


  3. Palani September 20, 2020 6:58 am Reply

    I have very little sympathy for the wealthy elite of Princeville, and their “First-World” problems.


    1. steven September 21, 2020 10:10 am Reply

      This affects all of Kauai. Some of the planned tents will be 2 and 3 bedroom. These visitors will be affecting everyone. Kauai has no restriction on how many people can stay per bedroom in a vacation rental unit.


    2. Laura Pettit September 22, 2020 4:22 pm Reply

      Most important, consider the “precedent” set. If this goes through in Princeville, Yurts will be popping up all over! Easy and cheap to build and $500/nt. Everyone should be fighting this.


  4. Kauai strong September 20, 2020 8:04 am Reply

    King Kamehameha, the Super Ferry and a cult could not conquer the people of Kauai, Starwood is foolish to think they can.


  5. David September 20, 2020 8:06 am Reply

    Kaua’i will continue to grow, either taking up more open space land of expanding vertically. Perhaps it’s time to revisit height restrictions on buildings.


  6. Uncleaina September 20, 2020 8:16 am Reply

    A battle of The Entitled! However Starwood doesn’t have much legal footing trying to use a “forgotten” document that gives the land back. Class Action time. My favorite line is “locally sourced firewood”. Who ARE these people? Straight from LA obviously. Yeah, we stopped importing endangered Costa Rican hardwood to burn years ago. I do think it’s funny tho the idea of one bunch of rich people paying $500 a night to camp out in the front yard of other rich people. Is this what we want our island to become?


  7. Ted September 20, 2020 9:21 am Reply

    If Starwood wants their new hotel to succeed they had better not mess with Kauai residents like this. The entrance road can easily be made a hassle to use and the beach can become a hangout for locals. Word would quickly get out and reservations would dry up. They need to take a look at what happened to the Superferry. This is a small island and corporate greed is not welcomed.


  8. Paulo September 20, 2020 10:43 am Reply

    Regardless of the type, Kauai is on visitor accommodation overload. It’s got to stop somewhere.


    1. Da Shadow September 20, 2020 11:38 am Reply

      not all of us have your wealth; most of us rely on visitors to pay rent, buy our kids’ clothes, buy gas, groceries, etc etc etc

      your inconvenience is livelihood for many.


  9. Rochelle D Kimball September 20, 2020 12:19 pm Reply

    With Princeville’s development inception, the Makai golf course land was conceived as open space in the Master Plan. Kauai Island belongs to all of us & it is all of our responsibility to limit further development of our precious island & preserve open space. The developers are so out of touch with those less fortunate, that Little would say the resort is for, “People of all demographics” At $500/night? Hello! That’s a pretty limited demographic. Locally sourced firewood? What planet do they live on? From where are we chopping down trees to feed their 50 outdoor grills? And aren’t they aware that wood burning fireplaces cause air pollution. Wood burning fireplaces can no longer be installed in many localities, even those without a significant smog problem, for example San Francisco. Those demographic & firewood points aside, it is the open land that we must preserve & protect from those who would seek personal gain from destroying it. Greed is the factor at play here; making more money at any cost to the environment & the quality of life of others. These developers must be stopped! What is best for the common good must prevail & that is open space preservation.


  10. manawai September 20, 2020 2:59 pm Reply

    Maybe all you folks who moved here and want to pull the drawbridge up, how about you move away so others could come and enjoy this sacred island. Who gave you the right to stop others from doing exactly what you did yourself? Hypocritical, ya? After all, it’s you newcomers who have created the affordable housing issue. You’re just taking up space others could be enjoying or desperately need. How about some “housing justice”?


  11. sandi September 20, 2020 3:54 pm Reply

    This is soooooo very sad and wrong. I decided in 1973 that I would never move to the Hawaiian islands and contribute to the over crowding. It was the saddest day of my life. i continue to torture myself for not moving to where my heart belonged, to where God had planned me to be myself. But, in 1973, I saw where homes were being built then, where land was just beautiful. I could just vision as it is today and it was so very sad. Now to hear, that they want to add glamping at $500/nite! Who is in the world would want to “camp” at that rate? Well, not anyone that cares about or respects the lands of Hawaii. Izze song just keeps running through my mind. So very very sad!


  12. Hirondelle September 20, 2020 5:40 pm Reply

    This would be a good time to ask Starwood where they will construct a waste treatment facility to accommodate increased population density on this land. Even at $500 a night, the folks who put the “glam” in “glamping” will create sewage.


  13. MisterM September 20, 2020 6:20 pm Reply

    Starwood will never prevail with their silly ‘ancillary’ use position and they know it. It’s just a trial balloon to get people primed for 2026. They’ll just wait and propose a few hundred condos.

    Going to hurt some hapless owner’s property values, but that’s not their concern, nor should it be. The owners will have to sue their title insurance companies and see if any are still in business.

    The resort is a gift that keeps on giving – the current ownership used the propeety as a flagship for their previous hotel company (Starwood Hotels and Resorts) that sold out to Marriott a few years ago, pocketing billions. Then they bought back the (neglected and run-down) resort and are again set to use it as a flagship property. My bet is they knew about this ‘long forgotten’ 2026 clause a long time ago, so some very smart cookies.

    Got my popcorn ready – Kauai is always good for another faux righteous indignation fight by the kum ba yah nutjob crowd.


  14. steven September 21, 2020 10:03 am Reply

    I agree. This is not a just a Princeville problem. It is a Kauai problem. This group is avoiding the requirement of a developer to provide 30% workforce housing. Currently the 1 Hotel group has locations where the nightly rate is 50% off. Hotels are going broke. Starwood has another 7 or 8 locations in the works for 1 Hotel. This is the time to be fiscally conservative. The Starwood group doesn’t need to spend money pushing through a plan that most likely will be stopped and will give them a very bad reputation on Kauai.


  15. steven September 21, 2020 10:13 am Reply

    This affects all of Kauai. Maybe all if Hawaii, If this can be approved a cheap vacation rental housing, where else can it be replicated. Some of the planned tents will be 2 and 3 bedroom. These glampers will be affecting everyone. Kauai has no restriction on how many people can stay per bedroom in a vacation rental unit.


  16. carl milldrum September 21, 2020 10:21 am Reply

    Should have never torn down Hanalei Plantation.Awesome location,awesome views,classic high ceilings open air dining ,cabanas on their own terrace


  17. Coral L Miles September 21, 2020 11:31 am Reply

    This Glamping Camping will not benefit Princeville or the surrounding community. This is a way for the developers to get their foot in the door for future homes on the property. There are many questions and the answers coming from the developers, such as “ancillary use” show you where they are at.
    As the G.I. News so aptly points out, Starwood’s solvency should be relevant. The impact on traffic, ageing drainage culverts, and roads is highly important. What is the “commercial building”. Will it be in view of the Glampers or the residents. There will be little financial benefit to the area as the owner intends to keep spending located on the property with restaurant, spa, pools and a “commercial” enterprise.
    I have little hope that the PHCA with it’s lawyers and advisors will be working for the residents. We are not ignorant of the voting block of the hotels and real estate interests. It’s no surprise the 1972 document was hidden. As with other promises to early homeowners ie; free pool, free shuttle, ect., open space was never meant to last. What has happened to Queen’s Bath? The committee and their study to recommend solutions has also been buried.
    Good question about the homeless. Will this developer be required to contribute to low cost housing? Let’s require 20% of the tents to be low cost and homeless glamping.
    I am very afraid a projectile would easily go through a tent wall.
    Let’s have a meeting without Zoom. Is the park big enough?


  18. Laurie September 21, 2020 12:46 pm Reply

    Glamping is really cool in “off the grid” locations, not right off the backyards of homes in a suburban neighborhood. Affluent neighborhood or not, this type of project doesn’t belong in Princeville OR ANY NEIGHBORHOOD. Not sure “Ancillary to golf” equates to “glamping”. Good luck to these residents in Princeville fighting off yet another greedy developer.


  19. Jah Kai September 21, 2020 1:21 pm Reply

    What about the endangered birds that reside in that area? What about the lack of public parking for locals to access coast lines? Locals first & low paying jobs for locals to clean up after rich millennials isn’t a good justification.


  20. Hank Adler October 5, 2020 11:28 am Reply

    This idea belongs on the Babylon Bee satire sight.

    We have been visiting Princeville for forty years and thought we had seen and heard almost every silly idea for one of the very, very nicest places on the planet. “Glamping” – Does Starwood understand that the North Shore has serious hurricanes and occasionally it has biblical rains. Imagine building a ‘tent’ to code.

    “Ancillary use” ——– “locally sourced firewood” ———- “Thatched roofs” — OMG


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