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Former Governor Abercrombie sends letter on behalf of Paia businessman

Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie wrote a letter in support of Paia businessman Michael Baskin’s request for a special use permit to operate the Paia Inn, a nine-bedroom transient vacation, at 93 Hana Highway.

The former governor and congressman submitted his letter via email on Monday, a day before the Maui Planning Commission took up and ultimately denied the request.

Abercrombie also disclosed that he is Baskin’s partner in a wedding events business located at 65 Hana Highway.

That business is “separate and apart” from the request for permits for the Paia Inn, he said.

Regarding the Paia Inn application, which drew opposition from Wailuku attorney Isaac Hall, representing Paia neighbor Francine Aarona, Abercrombie said he disagreed with “much if not a great majority of the negative comments” about Baskin’s project.

Writing as a consultant with Pacific Strategies LLC, Abercrombie told county planner Kurt Wollenhaupt that he personally walked and observed properties involved in the Paia Inn application.

Negative comments about the project “constitute a vast overstatement of supposed adverse consequences if the application is granted,” he wrote. “One is encouraged to believe by converting four small rooms into bedrooms Paia as a historic town will be devastated, its character unalterably ruined with dire consequences for its future survival in any recognizable form.

“It strains credibility, for example, to characterize the Paia Inn in the same category as hotel or resort development as it is commonly observed anywhere on Maui or in the state of Hawaii for that matter,” Abercrombie continued. “The present uses of the property for rentals are permitted. Whatever arguments may be at issue concerning whether the applicant has met all the conditions associated with the permits do not alter the fact that use of the property for rentals is, in itself, acceptable under all the codes and rules in effect on Maui. This is not some tidal wave for expansion. It’s four rooms!”

On Tuesday, commission members unanimously denied Baskin a special use permit for the Paia Inn.

Commissioners cited Baskin’s history of problems with the county as a reason for denial.

Baskin still owes the county $190,000 to pay for fines and penalties stemming from a settlement agreement in late July 2015. In it, the businessman agreed to pay $500,000 — the largest amount ever levied by the Planning Department — arising from 30 notices of violation that were the result of an investigation launched in May 2013.

In a Sept. 27 letter to Baskin, from Department of Planning Director Will Spence listed a half-dozen “outstanding issues” at the Paia Inn, including those relating to parking, the unpaid fines and penalties, an unpermitted sign, an unapproved fabric awning and a failure to submit and get approval of a comprehensive signage plan.

Baskin provided a point-by-point response on Nov. 10. It disputed, challenged and explained the Paia Inn’s position for each item, a number of which were being addressed, he said.

Regarding the unpaid settlement amount, Baskin called it an issue with “no relevance” to his permit application.

“Our small family business was considerably economically affected by the extreme actions taken against us,” Baskin wrote. “We feel the fines were hugely disproportionate to the small violations but as it seemed the only way to keep our business in operations, we agreed to them. The approval we are seeking through this county special use permit will assist us to operate our family business and offer this much-needed service to the community.”

The unapproved signs have been removed, he said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.