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Coco Palms developer responds to DLNR’s alleged land-use violation letter

WAILUA — The Department of Land and Natural Resources is investigating alleged land use violations by the latest developer of Coco Palms Resort, and has asked to stop all work.

But Reef Capital Partner’s Managing Director Patrick Manning said that they are committed to resolving the issue and continuing with their approximately $250 million plan to reconstruct the 350-room resort over the next three years.

The Utah-based real estate investment firm, also known as RP21 Coco Palms LLC, took over the site from a previous developer in 2019.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands issued the letter to Coco Palms Ventures LLC, the name of a previous developer, stating that it has received evidence showing work being done within the Hawai‘i State Land Use Conservation District without proper authorization.

“Our office does not have any records of any permit being sought or secured for any land use on the subject parcel,” said the DLNR letter, which was signed by Board of Land and Natural Resources Chair Dawn Chang.

The letter attached photos showing the approximate location of the work, a short drive from the Coco Palms construction site off of Koki Road. The photos show green waste being pushed on the property, cleared land, and piles of vegetation.

The letter recommended the developer stop all work. It also asked for a written statement within 30 days and stated that the developer could face thousands of dollars in fines if the activity continued.

“Should you fail to immediately cease such activity after written or verbal notification from the department, willful violation may incur an additional fine of up to $15,000 per day per violation for each day in which the violation persists,” wrote the DLNR.

But Manning said that the situation was an honest oversight by his team, and they are working with the DLNR to receive the proper rights.

“The problem is that we thought we had approval from the county. It was an innocent mistake. We were clearing, getting ready for demolition. We didn’t realize that, well, we missed a step,” said Manning, adding that receiving proper permissions is a complex process.

“We’re working closely with the DLNR to remedy that and just keep moving forward. It hasn’t changed our plans at all. Just having to fix an oops,” said Manning in an interview with The Garden Island on Friday.

Manning explained that they were clearing the area and moving debris, so that they’d be able to bring the abandoned buildings down to be reconstructed.

“That’s everything from cutting down trees, to years and years of overgrowth, to cars. Just getting everything out of there,” he said.

Manning wasn’t “100 percent sure” what had been placed in the unauthorized area, but noted the letter stated, “It was just the clearing of the land.”

“We have removed palm trees for sure on our property. I’m not 100 percent sure if we removed palm trees on the DLNR property,” he said, adding that they intend to replant any trees that have been cut down. “It’s just we can’t get in to do the demolition if there are trees prohibiting us from getting into the concrete.”

Manning also noted that the letter was not a cease and desist, but a “recommendation” to stop clearing on the DLNR property.

“Of course, we’re taking that recommendation, stopping doing anything on the DLNR while we are working with them to remedy so that we can then go forward,” said Manning.

Controversy has surrounded the once-renowned Coco Palms resort since its destruction by Hurricane Iniki back in 1992, with several previous developers making failed attempts to rebuild the site.

Mason Chock, a former member of the Kaua‘i County Council, is one of many community members to have been outspoken about opposition to the site’s reconstruction.

Chock is also the vice president of the nonprofit group I Ola Wailuanui, an organization that is “dedicated to honoring the cultural and historical significance of the area,” he said.

Chock listed sea level rise, climate change, over-tourism, and heavy traffic as reasons why Coco Palms, which fronts a state highway across the street from Wailua Beach’s eroding shoreline, should not be rebuilt.

When asked about the recent letter from the DLNR, Chock said that if they are found to have committed a violation, the DLNR should prohibit the developer from continuing.

“If there was a violation, I think that it is clear and clear cut and simple. Then they need to stop,” said Chock in an interview with The Garden Island on Friday.

“If people who are coming from the outside, developers, expect to turn a dime and make money off of our own backs, then they should at the very least follow the rules and regulations we have in place in order to coexist with the community.”

The DLNR declined to comment further on the letter and alleged violation.

“As the alleged violation is currently under investigation, we cannot comment further at this time,” said the DLNR’s Senior Communications Manager Dan Dennison in an email response to The Garden Island on Friday.


Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or
Source: The Garden Island

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