An application by the Kahala Hotel and Resort for an easement to increase its use of the public beach fronting the hotel for commercial purposes has been getting increased public attention, but it’s too late for the public to comment on hotel’s draft environmental assessment. The comment period expired this past week.
However, once the draft environmental assessment is processed, the entire matter will have to return to the Board of Land and Natural Resources for its consideration.
According to the draft environmental assessment, the hotel is seeking:
Non-exclusive Easement for Applicant’s Existing and Continuing Use of State Land for recreational and resort-related activities including the renovation and maintenance of landscaping, construction of access paths and pavement, conducting wedding and vow renewal ceremonies for hotel guests at up to three locations, maintaining an existing wedding gazebo, an outdoor seating area, and a open-air hut partially within the State Parcel, overnight storage of aquatic and beach equipment, placement of ten canopy tents, 40 to 50 cabana loungers, public showers on the State Parcel and presetting approximately 100 beach lounge chairs along the eastern side of the sandy beach for use by hotel guests and the general public on a non-discriminatory first come – first serve basis.
Currently, the hotel has a revocable permit to utilize the area. The permit was transferred to the hotel’s current owner is 2014, and is subject to annual renewal. The granting of an easement would make the arrangement permanent.
In 2014, DLNR staff recommended the land board prohibit the hotel from placing improvements on the state-owned land, preset any beach equipment, store equipment, or “conduct surfing instruction or wedding ceremonies” on the state parcel.
But when the matter came to the board, the proposed restrictions on wedding ceremonies was dropped, according to minutes of the meeting.
According to an August 26, 2016 report to the board, the hotel currently pays just $1,244 per month to utilize just under one acre (.929 acre) of oceanfront property owned by the state.
•Rent carried over from previous permit holder, which was set via in-
house valuation dated 11/22/06.
• RP issued to the hotel’s new owner to continue the then existing hotel operations over the subject location. The hotel is working on the environmental assessment for the long term disposition, and staff will bring the request to the Board at a later date when the EA process is completed.
According to the hotel’s website, hotel guests pay $65 per day to rent a lounge chair with a shade, $115 per day for a cabana tent with room for two lounge chairs, $30 for a beach umbrella, and fees for beach equipment, lessons, and other services.
In addition, the hotel does a substantial wedding business utilizing the state-owned property, although the number of weddings isn’t publicly reported in the available documents (at least not as far as I’ve been able to find), so it is difficult to quantify how much they would limit public access to those areas. The hotel says it intends to hold weddings at three locations.
I have to wonder how there could be a quick finding of “no impact” when the draft environmental assessment fails to quantify its use. How many weddings does it conduct? How often? Are there limits to the number of weddings in a day? How many people generally take part in the average ceremony? How many beach chair rentals? How many tents are set up on public property? The environmental assessment does not provide numbers that would allow an estimate of likely impacts, and whether its various uses (and their impacts) are projected to increase over time.
According to KITV (“Kahala Resort plan: Privatization of public beach?“):
A quick glance down the shoreline fronting the Kahala Resort and Hotel and you can see a line of hotel beach cabanas and beach chairs. It may look like a private beach, but it’s not.
Little by little, the previous owners of the hotel began encroaching on public land to the point, beachgoers may have thought they were trespassing on resort grounds.
But a wedding gazebo on the west corner is on state land. For years, the hotel was charging big money for couples to get married here, when it actually it wasn’t legally permitted by the state.
Local beachgoers didn’t know about the longstanding issues.
The hotel’s current application would, if granted, legalize its partial takeover of the beach.
Hawaii News Now reported (“Kahala residents fear hotel’s beach wedding venue plans would privatize shoreline“):
Residents against the plan say that will only make it even harder to access the public beach which is in front of the hotel’s property.
“Everyone assumes that it’s private and I believe that the hotel wants to reinforce that and make it even more private,” said Kahala resident Jim Nicolay.
“They ask you to, ‘Oh, can you walk in the ocean when you pass by so you won’t upset our weddings? Oh, you can you walk in the back corridors in the hotel where we have the dirty dishes so you won’t upset our paid for weddings?’ and a high price I might add,” said beachgoer Linda Wong.
The hotel already has two areas where they hold weddings. Now it is asking the state for an easement to use for a third wedding location.
“I can recall multiple times where I’ve had to decide whether I would walk through the water to avoid the wedding,” said Nicolay.
It looks like there will be more public pushback when this matter returns to the land board for action.