Panel recommends approval of permit to keep property in Hawaiian family’s hands

WAILUKU — A Makena family’s request to continue holding weddings on its property is headed to the Maui County Council after the Maui Planning Commission recommended approval of an after-the-fact permit Tuesday.

The John and Kamaka Kukahiko of Makena Corp. has been renting its beachfront property as a wedding venue for more than a decade to help cover rising property taxes, board trustee Ed Chang said.

While commission Chairman Keaka Robinson said it was “hard for me to reward when we don’t follow the rules,” he and other commission members recognized the Kukahiko family’s need to create a revenue stream.

“This troubles me because of how we set up the rules and how it doesn’t do what we want for locals,” Robinson said. “We have a family who has to rent out their property to keep their property, even though their property’s been in their hands for decades.”

Located near a popular swimming and diving spot known as Five Caves, the Kukahiko estate includes a main dwelling of 3,459 square feet, a detached garage and a secondary, 693-square-foot dwelling, planning consultant Rory Frampton said.

A conditional permit would allow the family to annually hold 110 special events of no more than 50 guests. Events would be allowed to take place between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., with all music ending at 9:30 p.m. Limited amplification would be permitted, but no bands or DJs. No off-site parking would be allowed, and events of 21 guests and more would require a shuttle in addition to the on-site parking. Event structures would have to be taken down within 24 hours.

John and Kamaka Kukahiko originally purchased the Makena property from Ulupalakua Ranch in 1883, Frampton said. The family created the corporation in 1973 as a way for heirs to maintain ownership. But as Makena has changed, property values have gone up.

“The real property taxes have really skyrocketed,” Frampton said. “They’re upwards of $50,000 a year to this property, and so they’ve turned to small-scale ceremonies and weddings in order to generate revenues so they can keep the property in family hands.”

After the meeting, Chang said the family started renting out the property for weddings in late 2006. The family does not run the weddings. It started out “very small at first,” but since then the venue has gotten significantly busier, booking 130 weddings in 2015, 110 in 2016 and 90 last year. Chang said the revenue has covered the costs of owning property in Makena.

Neighbor Michael Flannery said that at first, events at the Kukahiko estate didn’t bother him. But as they increased to four to six times a week, the noise began to bother him and his wife, who have had trouble sleeping due to late-night events.

However, Flannery said Chang has worked with him over the past few years to manage the noise, and things have gotten better.

“I am in opposition of it from the standpoint that it has to have regulations that make it suitable to be in a residential area,” Flannery said. “When I bought the property I had no idea there was going to be a commercial business running next door on a regular basis that was loud. Eddie has worked with me on this, and I hope he continues to in the future.”

Other testifiers were supportive, pointing out that the family had been responsive to neighbor concerns. They said that as one of the few local families in an area populated with hotels and luxury homes, the Kukahiko corporation needed the business to keep from being priced out.

“It was originally built so . . . each family member could have one week to spend at the beach house,” corporation President Randy Piltz said. “We really don’t want to have weddings there. We wanted to keep it as a family residence.”

Robinson asked Piltz, a former member of the Maui Planning Commission and state Land Use Commission, why the family didn’t seek a permit sooner.

“We started off saying just do it for a little bit, a short time,” said Piltz, also an executive assistant on planning to the mayor. “I’m in the county, and I should’ve known better. And I’m sorry, but we didn’t.”

Chang also said the family had hired someone to apply for a permit, but after he failed to do so, he was fired. Uncertainty over property taxes from year to year also made the family hesitant to apply, Chang said.

Deputy Corporation Counsel David Galazin reminded commission members that their decision needed to be based on the land use impacts and not just on the family’s back story. Before voting, commission member Kahu Alalani Hill disclosed that she had performed ceremonies at the property. She said she did not have any future contracts there, and she judged she could vote impartially. Other members did not object. The commission voted 5-0 to recommend approval.

Planning Director Will Spence said the Kukahiko Corp. may have to pay a fine, although it wasn’t clear Tuesday what that amount might be. Spence said two notices of violation went out May 17.

The department wouldn’t penalize the corporation for past years because “it’s too hard to prove when something actually started or not,” he said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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