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Approvals sought for Lanai observatory

Pulama Lana‘i seeks to build facility for resort guests and locals

Pulama Lana‘i is seeking approval from the Lanai Planning Commission to construct and operate a 25-foot tall observatory to hold around 10 people for stargazing at its Four Seasons Resort Lanai. Pulama Lana‘i photo

Pulama Lana’i wants to construct and operate a 25-foot tall observatory for stargazing at its Four Seasons Resort Lanai and is seeking approval from the Lanai Planning Commission.

Lana’i Resorts LLC, doing business as Pulama Lana’i, is requesting Project District Phase 2 Development approval for the 20.5-foot-in-diameter Manele Observatory, which will have an opening for stargazing and space for approximately 10 people, according to the Lanai Planning Commission’s agenda for Thursday.

A public hearing will be held at 4 p.m. at the Lanai High and Elementary School cafeteria. Any action will take place after the hearing.

The structure’s design will be similar to the planetarium and observatory at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, according to county Planning Department documents. It will be located adjacent to the existing conference center building on the east side of the resort.

Although the facility is on resort property, the use of the observatory will be open to Lanai community members, Lanai High and Elementary School students and other individuals with an interest in astronomy, according to the Planning Department report.

The project development cost estimate for the project is $435,000, according to documents submitted to the Planning Department by developers.

A PlaneWave 1 Meter Alt-Az Telescope will be the centerpiece of the observatory. The telescope, also known as PW1000, will provide an enhanced astronomical experience compared to portable telescopes often set up on a nightly basis at Hawaii resorts, the report said.

The same telescope can be found at California Institute of Technology; Harvard University; Penn State University; University of New South Wales, Australia; and the University of Montana, the report added.

The observation dome consists of a prefabricated metal rib with a lower drop hydraulic door assembly. The rib dome will be painted a neutral color and anchored to a concrete wall base approximately 11 feet, 3 inches in height.

The maximum dome height is 25 feet, which is within the project district height maximum of 30 feet.

In addition to the observatory, there will be a wooden deck outside the observatory for guests, and pathways connecting the observatory to other parts of the resort.

The observatory normally will be used between dusk and 10 p.m., depending on the season, weather and special astronomical events. Access to the observatory will be only by guide or escort, though special events, such total solar/lunar eclipses, Leonid meteor showers or space station crossings, may merit special opening times, the report said.

There will be an astronomer or other expert present, who will conduct presentations for observatory guests, and reservations will be taken for activities.

In addition to approval by the Lanai Planning Commission, the project would need a Phase III approval from the planning director, followed by construction permits from the county.

If all permits are secured, a preliminary construction start date would be in the second quarter of this year, according to information from the Planning Department. Construction is estimated to take 2 1/2 months.

The Planning Department recommends approval by the Lanai Planning Commission but has outlined some conditions. They include having all exterior illumination fully shielded with downward lighting, and offering programs to local students and the community 12 times a year.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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