More than 100 Maui residents, including elected officials, have expressed opposition to a private company leasing the land and operating a popular parking lot near Keawakapu Beach.
Instead, residents want Maui County to manage the gravel land on state land near the Days Inn by Wyndham Maui Oceanfront. Residents alleged that current tenant Ruby & Sons Hospitality, which also owns the general lease for the neighboring inn, did not manage the lot well. They claimed management was trying to shut down the public land without a permit, calling police on local fishermen and families using the beach reserve and demolishing signs explaining the public beach reserve. They are also concerned about the lack of parking in the area as well as a housing estate that is expected to rise across South Kihei Road, which will further limit public parking.
More than 135 people submitted written testimony to the State Land and Natural Resources Council, which on Friday considered approving a recommendation from an evaluation committee to select a proposal from Ruby & Sons Hospitality to lease the land. and to operate the car park as a public car park. private establishment.
State Representative Tina Wildberger, whose district is South Maui, along with Maui County Council members Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci, Kelly King and Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, submitted written testimony raising concerns. concerning the approval of the recommendations of the evaluation committee. They echoed community concerns and supported the possibility of the county managing the parking lot. Rawlins-Fernandez, vice-chair of the board, also testified at Friday’s meeting.
The board agreed to postpone the matter, especially after hearing the administrator of the land and natural resources division of the state’s land and natural resources department, Russell Tsuji, who spoke about the ‘Maui County interest in eventually securing a plot adjacent to the existing parking lot.
Tsuji said the state is working on a response letter to the county on the matter.
Even if the board approves the recommendation on Friday, the matter is expected to be sent back to the board after a deal has been negotiated and the rent determined.
BLNR documents show that the current parking ratio is 51 public booths and 34 for hotel and restaurant customers. Ruby & Sons has operated the land under a revocable state license since 2012, when it purchased the adjacent hotel in bankruptcy.
Bernard Bays, the lawyer for Maui Oceanfront, said the owners of the inn have maintained the grounds the way the public wanted, including keeping it graveled. He added that the hotel never took the parking lot from the public, but instead donated more stands, highlighting the land’s long history, which involved an agreement with residents in 2005 that included the cession of 51% of the parking lots. to the public. .
At a Maui County Council meeting in 2018, Bays said the 2005 deal was born when Wailuku attorney Isaac Hall wanted to make sure the public could get some of that parking lot that was going to be used by the local business.
This “put a crimp” on the hotel and had them do valet parking and double parking on the hotel property, Bays said at the board meeting on Friday.
“It really affected the operation of the hotel on the state lease”, he said.
And, he said that at the request of the King Council member in 2018, they were required to provide 60 percent of the parking spaces in the parking lot for the public parking lot, another decision which he said has âSeverely hampered the operation of the hotel and its restaurant. “
The 2018 change came as council approved a bill granting a two-year conditional license to Ruby & Sons Hospitality to allow the construction and use of off-site parking in the county’s park district. Obtaining the permit is in accordance with the 2005 settlement agreement.
Bays also noted on Friday the possibility for the county to acquire plots next to the current lot; if it passes, the hotel would recover eight parking spaces.
“This will be very useful for the proper functioning of the hotel and the hotel restaurant”, said Bays.
Sarento’s on the Beach, the hotel’s restaurant, closed due to the pandemic, according to Bays, with another restaurant potentially opening at the start of the new year.
In agreeing to postpone the case, President Suzanne Case said that âfrom my point of view, there seems to be a problem with parking to get to the beach. There is also a parking problem for the hotel which has been around for 50 years.
“The solution seems to be the adjacent plots, which the county seems to express interest in and we are quite prepared to profile these plots to the county for that,” Case said. âIt seems to solve everyone’s problem. “
Case also noted that the county did not seem interested in the current parking lot.
DLNR documents show that Maui County has expressed interest in a long-term lease for the parking lots currently managed by the inn, but has not followed through on required bids afterwards.
Case added that with the hotel trying to have parking for its customers, that’s probably why they are “Pull” people far away. But on the other hand, if “you are a member of the public and trying to park, it is very frustrating.”
Maui board member Doreen Canto initially made a motion not to endorse the review committee’s recommendation, but later changed it to a deferral to wait for a word on the state’s discussion with the county on the other parcels.
Canto referred to “many testimonies” opposed to private management, noting that parking means a lot to the community. She said she was hopeful the state could strike a deal with the county and stressed that the housing project that is expected to come up in the area will force residents to scramble to park again.
Kai Nishiki, an environmental and shore access activist who spoke out on the lease and led the charge against it, told the board on Friday that “We must keep public lands in public hands”.
She added that development has increased in the area, parking options are dwindling and management has a history of poor interactions with the public using the land.
“This is not someone we would like to have a long term lease on a parking lot that even makes public use of the beach reserve possible”, she said. “As you know, no parking is the same as no access to the beach.”
Nishiki said management attempted to close the unlicensed parking lot and regularly blocked access to illegally block the public beach access parking lot on South Kihei Road.
A county spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email asking the administration’s interest in the current parking lot and / or adjacent properties in the area.
* Melissa Tanji can be contacted at [email protected]