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Planning commission defers action on Paia Inn

Panel reviews permit denial for 9-bedroom vacation rental

Paia Inn owner Michael Baskin (right) confers with attorney Terry Revere during Tuesday’s meeting. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

WAILUKU — The Maui Planning Commission is reconsidering its decision to deny a special use permit to the Paia Inn.

On Tuesday, commission members rescinded a decision they made on Sept. 25, basically bringing them “back to square one” on whether to approve or deny the permit, acting Chairman Lawrence Carnicelli said.

“As most people know, this is a very long case,” Carnicelli said. “It’s got hundreds if not thousands of pages of documentation. . . . Going through all of it was quite overwhelming, and I’m not sure that all of us even understood exactly how and why we were supposed to be going through that information at that time.”

Carnicelli made the motion to rescind so the commission would have another chance to review the facts and make a more informed decision. But with a bare quorum, the commission had to defer to give members more time to decide.

Paia Inn owner Michael Baskin had sought a special use permit to operate the Paia Inn as a nine-bedroom transient vacation rental. Paia Inn has five existing guest rooms, and Baskin wanted to convert the four offices into rooms.

Carnicelli

The commission denied Baskin a permit in December 2016 because of his previous run-ins with the county, which had fined him $500,000 and issued 30 notices of violation.

Baskin appealed the permit denial, and a hearings officer — retired Judge E. John McConnell — held contested case hearings in April and May. McConnell issued his report in July, stating that Baskin had met the criteria for a permit and recommending him for approval.

Carnicelli said in September that he did not agree with parts of the report and went into more detail Tuesday following the commission’s nearly 40-minute executive session.

In order to get a county special use permit, applicants have to meet eight criteria, which include meeting the intent of the general and community plans and avoiding negative impacts to the public, the character of the area and nearby schools and infrastructure. McConnell reasoned that Baskin had met seven of the criteria. (The eighth, which applies to state agricultural and rural districts, didn’t apply.)

Carnicelli disagreed.

Francine “Aunty Mopsy” Aarona, who lives near the Paia Inn, holds a sign in protest of the business.

He said he believed the Paia Inn did not meet the intentions of the Paia-Haiku Community Plan, which limits visitor accommodations to owner-occupied bed and breakfasts away from the shoreline. Based on advertising and operations, Carnicelli said he would conclude that the Paia Inn is a hotel.

In December 2016, Baskin told the commission that he had more than 35 employees and had recorded 15,000 bookings since the Paia Inn opened in 2008.

Carnicelli also believed the Paia Inn had negatively impacted the “social, cultural, economic, environmental and ecological character” of the area and had “deleterious effects” on the public, based on the community outcry the commission has heard in the past.

Carnicelli also took issue with McConnell calling only a handful of witnesses — Baskin; Bill Frampton, a planning consultant who works with Baskin; Fabian Penny, a Paia Inn employee; and then-Planning Director Will Spence, who had to remain neutral due to a settlement agreement.

He said he found it “dismissive” that McConnell did not call Paia resident Francine “Aunty Mopsy” Aarona and Martin Brass, a 25-percent owner of Flatbread Co. in Paia. McConnell wrote that their opposition to Paia Inn “appears to be personal in nature and not based on any of the relevant criteria.”

Both Aarona and Brass have disputed this, saying they oppose the Paia Inn because they consider it a hotel and that they disagree with the way Baskin has handled matters with the community.

With a bare quorum, the commission’s decision needed to be unanimous. Members voted 4-1 in favor of denying the permit, with Kellie Pali the dissenting voice to Carnicelli, Christian Tackett and P. Denise La Costa.

“For me, I would like to take more time to just validate your points and study the report further,” Pali said.

Baskin’s attorney, Terry Revere, called the meeting “a travesty.”

“It is quite obvious that having already stated his prior bogus reasoning on the record, he is simply trying to protect his okole by now coming up with after-the-fact justifications to harass my client,” Revere said. “He offered new BS excuses obviously supplied to him outside of the record by the opposition in violation of the Sunshine Law and the commission’s rules.”

Baskin said he disagreed with everything Carnicelli stated “in his attempt to get additional information on the record to cover himself.”

“Judge McConnell did a complete and thorough review of all matters, including all of the testimony from the previous testifiers,” Baskin said. “Mr. Carnicelli admitted today that he didn’t review the record carefully.”

He also said that Carnicelli did not acknowledge the letters of support the Paia Inn has gotten and called the Paia Inn “a small, family-run business that is very involved in supporting the community.”

Brass complained after the meeting that Baskin was just using repeated appeals to allow him to continue operating the Paia Inn against the community’s wishes. He said the Paia Inn is essentially a hotel.

“So you’re telling the neighbors that you have five rooms but you have no problem going to TripAdvisor and Yelp and standing before the council (saying) how you have 15,000 guests?” Brass said. “Do the math.”

Aarona said she was frustrated that Pali had delayed the vote.

“I’m disappointed in her actions,” Aarona said. “I feel she had time to research and commissioner Lawrence pointed out so many oppositions to the hearing officer’s report.”

Aarona said that she and other residents would continue to hold protests outside the Paia Inn, which they have already done twice since the Sept. 25 meeting.

“As far as we are concerned, he is still operating illegally, and we will continue,” she said.

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