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Owner of Puna retreat seeks special permit

After six years and a contested case hearing, a Puna retreat might finally be in compliance with county zoning codes next week.

Leonard Sussman said he founded the Kirpal Meditation and Ecological Center six years ago in Pahoa on land currently zoned as agricultural. Although the property was a farm when he purchased it in 2004, he has since built additional structures to facilitate classes on meditation and yoga. Those structures pushed it out of compliance with county zoning codes.

“I want to finally legitimize our operation,” Sussman said. “When I bought it, I was just living here, but after a while I thought I wanted to use it to help people. And then, gradually, I built these cabins and a yoga pavilion.”

Sussman said he hopes the Windward Planning Commission will see no reason to deny his request for a special permit at a meeting on July 1, but added that complications could always happen.

This is the second time Sussman has sought this permit for the Kirpal Center. The first time was at a Windward Planning Commission in February, but that request was immediately challenged by a neighbor calling for a contested case hearing.

That neighbor, Margaret Keri Dickie Clark, was critical of the retreat’s operations in February, saying residents acres away have complained about drumming and party noises from the retreat. Furthermore, she said, some of those complaints occurred after the pandemic lockdown last year, meaning the retreat was operating against quarantine rules.

For his part, Sussman said the retreat has been shut down since March of last year. Meanwhile, written testimony submitted for the February meeting universally praised Sussman and his retreat.

“I think (Sussman) is a force for good,” said Leilani Estates resident Robert Golden. “If something like this can’t get a special permit, then Puna’s really shooting itself in the foot.”

Dickie Clark also said that a structure on Sussman’s property was encroaching upon her own, which had negative impacts on her property’s value.

Following the contested case hearing, Dickie Clark and retreat representatives met for a mediation conference, where Sussman said they were able to reach some form of mutual understanding. Because of this, he said he expects no further controversy.

However, even if the retreat gains legitimacy, it still might not open anytime soon. Sussman said his business will remain shut down for the pandemic until the county gives permission to reopen again.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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