Kauai News

Planning Commission Hears Testimony Over Future of Coco Palms

By Amanda Kurth

Posted August 23, 2022, 3:49 PM HST ·Updated August 24, 2:46 PM

Dozens of residents came forward once again to testify in opposition to the permitting and development process of the former Coco Palms resort at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Plans to redevelop the historic and culturally significant Wailua property have faced financial woes and adversity from local residents since Hurricane Iniki rendered the resort destitute in 1992. Yet despite consistent public outcry, last year a foreclosure auction took place at the Fifth Circuit Courthouse in Līhuʻe July 2021 in which the new owners paid $22 million.

“The whole plan was to bring back the hotel as displayed by the original maker,” stated the project’s architect who has been working with developers and contractors who say they are committed to including a cultural center. “We intend to invite the Hawaiian communities so that they can teach us and enhance the guest experience about the Hawaiian culture. That’s the focus, rehabilitating Coco Palms. It never went away, it was just suspended by Iniki.”

Developers intend to put together a presentation with videos and collect community input this fall, stating that both worlds can and have to co-exist.

In 2016, Honolulu developers GreeneWaters, LLC formed a partnership, Coco Palms Hui LLC, to restore the resort. Their intent was to reopen Coco Palms as part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection. However, in 2019 the project collapsed.

Private Capital Group, Inc., a private loan servicing company based in Alpine, Utah, picked up the project with plans for a brand new 350-room hotel on the same site but was not available to provide testimony at Tuesday’s meeting. However, Parker Enloe, President of Colam Consulting was in attendance to represent the interests of Reef Capital Partners and spoke about the company’s managerial involvement while the foreclosure proceeded.

“It took nearly four years to work with a new buyer,” he stated, adding that the loan servicing company has put down substantial financial roots to move forward. 

Reef Capital Partners is a diversified, vertically integrated commercial real estate investment company that creates and manages private credit and private equity real estate transactions. The equity group financed the original acquisition and demolition of the structures to make them operable for activity. 

Most of the building permits have been approved, with all discrepancies and developer impacts worked out, among one remaining permit up for review, according to Enloe.

“The permits were issued in 2015, and the group of investors whom I represent is standing alongside the developer with what the project can and will be,” Enloe said.

After building permits are approved, construction has a one-year window to break ground. Entities in charge of the development, plan to completely demolish every building to their foundation, but will not dig. “The hope is to be raising structures as fast as building permits happen,” Enloe continued.

Enloe stated it was his first time visiting Kaua‘i and the Wailua property.

Despite developers voicing their sympathies for the local community, one resident in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting opposed a fair shot for any business, citing missing documents. 

“I ask the commission to not accept the report and receive more testimony on matters of Coco Palms files that have gone missing,” stated Teresa Tico, who opened a solo law practice on Kaua‘i in 1977. “When I started this task with Fern Holland of going through documents in chronological order I was only given two boxes and found that all documents from 2014-present were missing.” 

Tico stated that organizing the documents in relation to the former resort was an arduous task. The commission later emphasized that Tico’s testimony would be addressed by the county attorney’s office.

And while Tuesday’s commission meeting was framed as an update to conditions relating to permit-holder compliance, Councilmember Mason Chock testified that the order should include outcomes that are favorable to Garden Isle residents.

“I am here in an individual capacity…I do think that this declaratory order could be reviewed properly by the commission and I do think that with this order there should be a possibility for the community to seek reparations in regards to environmental and cultural issues,” Chock said.

In a follow-up email with the Commission, officials explained to Kaua‘i Now the aim behind yesterday’s new agenda item, clarifying what seemed to be a window to testify for those in opposition to any further development.

“There was no action to approve, modify, or deny the subject permits,” said Director Kaʻāina Hull who noted there were misconceptions that the future development of Coco Palms would be at stake. “This was inaccurate.”

Several community members provided testimony, as well as showed up to testify, on the approval or denial of the subject permits, when in fact no such action was being taken by the Commission.

The Planning Commission granted the zoning and special management area permits for the Coco Palms development back in 2015. There were a series of actions and deadlines set by the Planning Commission under these permits that the applicant was required to meet to be in conformance with the subject permits’ conditions of approval. Those actions and deadlines have been met.

The Department also stated it recently responded to a request by Theresa Tico asking for a status report for 2018 that was not in the file. “We were able to locate a digital copy and emailed it to her,” stated Hull adding that the Department was unaware other status reports may not be in the physical file.

“We will review the file promptly and update it with any digital records that are found to be absent from the file,” Hull continued.

The Planning Commission meets twice a month to hold public hearings on zoning and land use permits and applications, as well as render decisions on these matters. For more information click here.

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Amanda Kurth
Amanda lives in Hanapēpē. She has had a love for newspapers and journalism since she was 12 years old. She attended the University of Oregon where she obtained a journalism degree. She interned at the Hermiston Herald. She has been a Kauai Now contributor since June 2022.
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