Kaua’i Council urges state to reallocate some Coco Palms land for public use

Kaua’i lawmakers want the state to consider reallocating privately leased state land in Wailua for public use and access.

The parcels are connected to the dilapidated Coco Palms Resort. The property has been under the scrutiny of state and county entities for years since it was destroyed by Hurricane ʻIniki in 1992.

Councilwoman Felicia Cowden and council vice president KipuKai Kualiʻi jointly introduced the non-binding resolution. Cowden said he is targeting three state parcels tied to private interests, which the resolution suggests would be better for public use.

Cowden said part of the land could be used for a public parking lot, potentially replacing one that has been eroded by the ocean.

“Then the larger 14.83 acre part in the middle, that (property) for the state to consider for public use, or at least to reconsider how it would be allocated,” Cowden said.

In summary, Utah-based Reef Capital Partners currently owns the Coco Palms Resort area, part of it on private land and part of it on leased state land. Reef Capital foreclosed on the property after the former owners defaulted on their loans.

The Coco Palms property sits on both private and state owned land.

“We have listened to the community and our elected leaders and have learned that much of the opposition to the restoration of Coco Palms is driven by mistrust and skepticism stemming from 30 years of broken promises by previous owners,” said the attorney. of Reef Capital, Mauna Kea Trask. at the Wednesday meeting.

Trask said the owners opposed the resolution, saying proper maintenance and development is ongoing.

“Unlike previous owners, Reef Capital has the financial strength and resources to responsibly complete the development of Coco Palms in a way that balances the needs and concerns of the community,” Trask said during an opening statement.

This resolution, which was deferred from a meeting in May, also targets the covered plots in the resort’s famous coconut grove. Trask said it costs about $400,000 to maintain the grove properly.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources opened an interdepartmental investigation into the property this spring. The alleged violations include failure to pay county property taxes, cutting down 77 healthy palm trees without consent, failure to report annually, and failure to provide written approval for lease reassignment.

The investigation includes the state’s Division of Historic Preservation and the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands.

The Land and Natural Resources Board will take up the matter once the investigation is concluded, BLNR President Dawn Chang told the council last month. This resolution, which was passed, is intended to provide a council position on these issues.

This document differs from calls last month from Chairman Mel Rapozo for the county to seek eminent domain of private property.

“We get a ton of emails about eminent domain, that’s not on the agenda, so I won’t allow testimony on eminent domain,” Rapozo said ahead of Wednesday’s topic. “We are talking about a resolution of three parcels that the state controls and that the introducers of the resolution would like to see returned to the public for public use.”

    Residents have been saying for years that a hotel is not suitable in this area.  Complaints include traffic, proximity to the coast and its cultural importance.
Residents have been saying for years that a hotel is not suitable in this area. Complaints include traffic, proximity to the coast and its cultural importance.

“So I’m just giving you a warning now: There’s no discussion of the county buying this land or discussions of eminent domain,” Rapozo said.

In a May 10 meeting, Trask said the owners would be willing to sell the property for $22 million, which was reportedly borrowed from a former pension fund for first responders and government employees. On Wednesday, he retracted that.

“But I don’t think it was a formal offer of sale, just a notification to the president on the subject he brought up,” Trask said.

Community and state officials have spoken out against the complex’s ongoing redevelopment, saying a 300-plus-room hotel is unsuitable for the flood zone and traffic-prone area.

Recent disputes over the history of the property and the importance of the area have plagued redevelopment over the years. Included within Coco Palms’ larger 46-acre property is a culturally significant fishpond near the heart of Kaua’i’s last queen, Deborah Kapule.

The council passed the resolution by a 4-2 vote, with members Billy DeCosta and Bernard Carvalho in opposition. Councilmember Addison Bulosan was excused.