Residents wary about hotel public-shoreline easement

HONOLULU (AP) — Oahu residents attended a neighborhood board meeting Thursday to share how they feel about the Kahala Hotel & Resort’s attempts to obtain a rare, nonexclusive easement to use about an acre of public shoreline for commercial enterprises.

The Oahu hotel’s Japan-based owner hopes to spend $900,000 to improve an 115,434-square-foot area of land, including leasehold and state beach lands, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

A nonexclusive easement would mean the public could continue to use the space, but those opposed worry replacing the hotel’s month-to-month permit with an easement would lessen the state’s ability to protect public land.

The Waialae-Kahala Neighborhood Board passed a unanimous multi-part resolution during Thursday’s meeting which opposes any permanent easement for public beaches in the area.

The board also voted to ask the state Office of Environmental Quality Control to extend the comment period 45 days, saying that the project is moving too fast.

“So now we have a private hotel owning a property right for public land and to some extent we are at their mercy,” neighborhood board Chairman Richard Turbin said.

“I don’t see any of us supporting this easement. We don’t care if it’s the most charitable organization in the world giving an easement for a public beach — we would be crazy to go along with that.”

The hotel wants to offer torch-lighting ceremonies and rides in traditional sailing outrigger canoes. It also plans to improve shoreline access fronting the hotel and expand its outdoor wedding ceremonies to three state parcels from two. The hotel would add native plants, Hawaiian signage and tiki torches.

Supporters have said that the hotel has improved the community’s shoreline and that it needs to make the improvements to stay competitive. But they questioned why the hotel could not make the needed improvements under the status quo.

If the measure moves forward, it would head to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for decision-making.

“We have to keep in mind if this gets approved what other business would do this,” neighborhood board member John Pyles said. “I think it’s a very bad precedent.”