Complaints spur bill for zipline permits
Neighbors say nearby operations have long been a disturbance
For years, residents in some Haiku neighborhoods have been listening to screams, dealing with trespassers and worrying over ziplining accidents close to their homes.
“It’s been hellacious,” said Haiku resident Ann Bassell, who lives about 500 feet from NorthShore Zipline Co.
Hoping to increase oversight for the operations, the Maui County Council is considering a bill that would require a conditional permit for canopy tour, zipline and bungee jumping operations as well as bar waterfall rappelling in county agricultural districts. On Wednesday night, the council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee recommended approval of the measure, which will now move on to the full council.
“We are on ag land,” Bassell said during public testimony Wednesday. “We have goats, we have horses on our property, we have an aquaponics system. So we are a small farm in ag land and we are surrounded by other small farms, and the hell that we have gone through, I really hope that if you pass this (bill) . . . that would protect our community members from the things we have been through.”
Currently there is no conditional permit to regulate these operations, Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who holds the Upcountry residency seat, said Thursday. She and Council Member Mike Molina of the Makawao-Haiku-Paia district went on a site visit to listen to concerns from Haiku residents and worked together to draft the proposal.
In the past, ziplines have gotten permission to operate as accessory uses on agricultural land.
“As far back as 2002 (I don’t think the concept existed much before then), the Planning Department received requests from proposed zipline operators to consider the zipline as part of an ag or farm tour,” Planning Director Michele McLean explained Friday via email. “These requests described other parts of the tour, where visitors would learn about ag practices, conservation, etc. And so these were approved as accessory uses under ‘open land recreation,’ which includes farm tours. These operate on ag-zoned land.”
Operations that were not on agricultural land went through other avenues, such as the Koele zipline that got approval from the Lanai Planning Commission under the property’s project district zoning and the Maui Tropical Plantation zip-line that received approval as part of the project district’s agricultural uses.
“With the exception of Koele, none received a ‘permit’ to operate, just an approval from Planning that the use was accessory to ag,” McLean said.
In addition to requiring conditional permits, the council bill would also establish operating hours and mandate insurance and routine inspections, among other requirements. It would also protect the county from lawsuits that may result from falls or accidents.
The proposed legislation comes after years of resident complaints and county scrutiny.
Haiku residents have tried to shut down NorthShore Zip-line for years, even resorting to legal action. In 2018, the Planning Department executed a settlement agreement with the company that established conditions for operation, which McLean said have been violated.
“We have issued warnings and are pursuing enforcement of the terms of the agreement,” she said.
NorthShore Zipline said it operates “a challenge course with ziplines, ropes, bridges and related facilities, on historic Camp Maui, where U.S. Marines resided and trained during WWII.”
“We received approval from the Planning Department of our operations as a permitted principal use,” the company said in an email Thursday. “We remain dedicated to promoting and preserving the history of Camp Maui through our challenge course activities and our Camp Maui museum.”
NorthShore Zipline also pointed to posted signs that ask their customers to “refrain from screaming.”
Another Haiku operation, Jungle Zipline Maui, was never allowed to operate, McLean said.
“We issued violations and those are going through the appeal process. During the appeal process, unless we were to seek an injunction (which we haven’t done), they continue to operate, though fines accrue,” McLean said.
Officials from Jungle Zipline could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Robert Friedlander, a Haiku resident who lives near Jungle Zipline, urged the committee on Wednesday to recommend passage of the bill.
“I’m hoping you can pass this bill that you have written and stop it,” Friedlander said. “It has been an annoying neighborhood problem for years and years and years.”
When Friedlander was building his home, he said the zipline was installed 20 feet from his property border, so close that he could hear workers talking.
“I heard them say things like, ‘What an idiot, why did he build his house so close to the zipline?’ “ Friedlander said.
“Personally, they don’t have any permits, but I spent nine years doing everything legal, to have a home on my property on ag land and never expected to have a nuisance next door.”
Other Haiku residents voiced concerns over customers trespassing and getting into confrontations when asked to leave.
Danny Boren, president and founder of Skyline Eco-Adventures, which operates ziplines Upcountry and in Kaanapali, said Wednesday night that he supported the bill. He said the insurance requirements and third-party inspections of the ziplines are “an important requirement that most zipline operators do have.”
No residents testified against his operations on Wednesday.
If the bill passes, conditional permit requests would go through the island’s Planning and Cultural Resources commissions and then to the County Council for final approval. The proposal would also limit conditional permits 15 total for both Maui and Lanai. There are currently 10 zipline operations in the county, with nine on Maui and one on Lanai.
No conditional permits for zipline, canopy tours and bungee jumping would be issued for Molokai, according to an amendment by Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who holds the Molokai residency seat.
The Molokai Planning Commission, which discussed the bill in September, did not want to see any of the operations on the island over concerns about adequate emergency resources in the event of a serious accident. The Lanai and Maui planning commissions also reviewed the bill.
Council Member Shane Sinenci, who holds the East Maui seat, added an amendment that would disallow special use permits for rappelling in agricultural districts within a 500-foot radius of a waterfall. Rappelling in agricultural districts would not be permitted on Molokai either.
Out of the 10 current zipline operations, six would not need a conditional permit if the bill is passed, according to McLean.
Skyline Eco-Adventures Haleakala and its Kaanapali operations, along with Kapalua Zipline, would not need a conditional permit since they operate on parcels of 50 acres or larger and received approval from the Planning Department previously, McLean said.
Maui Zipline Co. and Flyin Hawaiian Zipline, both at the Maui Tropical Plantation, along with the Lanai Adventure Park zipline in Koele, also do not need a conditional permit because they are in a zoning district that allows the operations.
McLean noted that these operations would still need to comply with the new standard zipline conditions that include having insurance, hours of operations and inspections.
Companies that would need a conditional permit include Paradise Eco-Adventures at the Maui Dragon Fruit Farm, for which McLean said a permitting process is underway, as well as Piiholo Ranch Zipline, Jungle Zipline Maui and NorthShore Zipline.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.