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  From The Garden Island, Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Body hears testimony on permits for rebuilding
By Lester Chang

LIHU'E -- Some Native Hawaiians yesterday were ready to join forces with leading Kaua'i architect Avery Youn in insisting Hawaiians and residents have access to 16 acres the state manages behind the old Coco Palms Resort.

Rupert Rowe, an Native Hawaiian who is running for a seat on the Kaua'i County Council this election year, and Mahealani Silva, were ready to press arguments to that end.

But Rowe said he would not "make it an issue" after finding out efforts were being made to allow Native Hawaiians and other residents use of the state lands.

They include a 14-acre coconut grove site, a one-acre site in which is found the entrance to the resort, and a slip of land fronting the old Seashell Restaurant on Wailua Bay.

The former hotel, located immediately mauka of Wailua Bay, was the subject of a public hearing the Kaua'i County Planning Commission held at the Lihu'e Civic Center Tuesday. No decision was made by the commission yesterday.

Coco Palms, LLC is seeking permits to renovate and redevelop the hotel by Wailua Bay. The hotel was ravaged by Hurricane 'Iniki in 1992, and has been closed since.

Before yesterday's hearing, Youn said he would continue to petition the county commission for intervenor status if the resort owner didn't agree to his terms.

Youn requested intervenorship status partly because he is of Native Hawaiian ancestry and because he lives up the road from the resort and would be impacted by traffic from it. But a conflict was apparently avoided because Youn and Richard Weiser, a leader with Coco Palms, LLC, acknowledged they were working on an official agreement allowing public use.

Coco Palms, LLC is the contract purchaser of the resort, and its leaders are hoping to buy the property from the leaders of Wailua Associates. Wailua Associates leases 16 acres from the state, and owns 17 acres.

"We have been in discussion with Avery," Weiser said before the public hearing. "We feel a conflict can be avoided. We are moving toward that (executing a document)." Youn said he is not opposed to the restoration of the Coco Palms, but didn't want to see the use of state lands by Native Hawaiians and residents "foreclosed."

"State lands should be reserved for public uses, and should not be locked under the control of an AOAO (association of apartment owners for 200 multi-family units that are planned at the resort)," Youn said. "I don't think it is right to manage or control the use of the state lands for the term of the lease."

Youn also said Native Hawaiians should be able to access the resort because all of the 33 acres has "evidence and documentation of being ancestral burial grounds." Weiser said he is "extremely" sensitive to Youn's concerns, and noted, "we are confident a mid-point can be reached and that we can satisfy Avery's concerns."

Prior to the hearing, Silva said Hawaiians have strong emotional and spiritual ties to the resort, because it was the home of Deborah Kapule, the last reigning queen of Kaua'i and the wife of King Kaumuali'i, and because of its use by ancient Hawaiians, and because the area has been used for burials.

"That area is steeped in deep cultural and spiritual traditions," she said.

Youn noted that the resort area contains royal fishponds formerly owned by the queen, that burials are located under a dining area and under the four tennis courts, and that the resort area is surrounded by five heiau and a "city of refuge" located across the mouth of the Wailua River.

The hotel probably should never have been built in the first place, Silva said. "(In line with Hawaiian ways) The water should go from the mountain to the ocean. There is a river, a lagoon, and the waterways are blocked by the hotel."

Larry Rivera, known as "Mr. Coco Palms" because of more than 50 years of association with the resort, said he respects Hawaiians and didn't want to get into an augment with them over the proposal.

Speaking in favor of the hotel's reopening, Rivera was to have submitted a petition he said was signed by hundreds of people favoring the reconstruction of the hotel.

Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@pulitzer.net.

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