Cultural panel wants Lahaina Honu beached

The Maui News
Friday, July 09, 2004

By VALERIE MONSON, Staff Writer

WAILUKU - The Maui County Cultural Resources Commission (CRC) recommended that the Lahaina Honu land-and-sea tour vessel be shut down immediately until members can be assured that the operator has met all requirements for activities in a historic district and the coastal zone.

"Let's make a stand right here," said Commissioner Sam Kalalau III who made the motion that was unanimously accepted.

After the meeting, Deputy Corporation Counsel Dudley Akama said he would consult with Planning Director Mike Foley about the administrative decision.

Brad Cronshaw, operations manager for the vehicle that has been offering tours since March, did not attend the meeting because he said there was confusion over the date. When contacted later, Cronshaw said his company had secured all of its needed permits and that his attorney would be contacting the county.

"It's a huge misunderstanding," said Cronshaw. "They made a decision based on one side of the story."

Actually, there was more than one side presented during testimony before the commission although public opinion was overwhelmingly against the Honu, a bright yellow "hydra-terra" vessel that has the ability to both drive up Front Street and cruise Lahaina Harbor. The odd-looking craft that's 39 feet long is similar to "duck boats," which were used to land soldiers on beaches during World War II.

The big questions were whether such a thing fits in with the character of the historic district guidelines that govern Lahaina and why the owner didn't respond to a request from the Planning Department in March to explain the operation so it could be determined if county review was needed.

County planner Dawn Duensing said that nearly every activity in Lahaina - even temporary events such as marathons or fund-raisers - almost always requires a minor special management area permit, if not a major SMA. The CRC is informed of all actions.

But the Honu, although now a permanent fixture on the west side, might be a different animal. Duensing said while the law did not appear to "absolutely" forbid such an activity, it could be argued that "the spirit of the historic district" was violated by the vessel.

Commissioner Lisa Ratunno-Hazuka agreed.

"It seems like they should have come before us," said Ratunno-Hazuka. "We hear things a lot less major than this."

After the commission recommended that Foley order the company to stop operations until the CRC could see the vessel, learn more about it and make a ruling, the item was placed on the agenda for the next meeting set for Aug. 5 in Lahaina.

If the county finds that no violations have occurred, Commissioner Barbara Long said CRC members would "have to come up with an opinion" regarding the vessel in the Lahaina Historic District. (Lahaina is also a National Historic Landmark.)

Cronshaw said the reason he had not completed the county papers was because Duensing didn't "demand" when they be returned. Duensing said she asked the business to complete a historic district application and an SMA assessment to see if a permit was required. She said the company already had a commercial vehicle license along with approvals from the state and U.S. Coast Guard for the amphibious vehicle.

In the meantime, the county has allowed the Honu to continue.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Dudley Akama said until the owner has submitted the applications, "we can't say that he's operating illegally."

That remark almost prompted a riot from the crowd.

"They're thumbing their nose at the county authority and nobody's doing anything about it," cried Michelle Anderson, executive assistant to Maui County Council Member Wayne Nishiki who said she was speaking on her own behalf. "We got ducks. What's next? Let's just turn Lahaina into a circus for the almighty dollar."

Members of Na Kupuna O Maui joined Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., and Dorothy Pyle, a professor of Hawaiian history at Maui Community College, in objecting to the vessel in Lahaina, calling it "Disneyland-like," "a disgrace to the community" and "that big, ugly thing."

Maxwell said he was approached by the Honu operators to teach the guides about Hawaiian history, but he bowed out because he felt the vessel was inappropriate in the historic district. Cronshaw said that Maxwell "doesn't like us."

Pyle, former commission chairwoman, reminded CRC members that they had the final say over historic district matters. She was also shocked that nothing had been done sooner to bring the tour vessel into compliance.

"Heaven forbid I should get a piece of land and build on it, but as long as I never apply for a permit, you can't decide if it's right or wrong," said Pyle.

Commissioner Ke'eaumoku Kapu also wondered if the Honu vehicle violated the historic district sign ordinance because its name is painted in large letters on the sides of the vessel.

J.J. Elkin of 505 Front Street, where the company has an office, said he felt the business was being unfairly singled out.

"I know there was good will on their part to meet the obligations," said Elkin of the vessel's operators. "The real issue here is it's considered ugly so it's an affront to the culture. . . Let's be frank, there is no relationship to what's going on in Lahaina today with historic preservation."

Elkin said if the commission was serious about restoring the character of Lahaina, then all the polluting cars and logo-bearing trucks should be banned from Front Street so a pedestrian mall could be created.

Cronshaw was also annoyed with how he was informed of the meeting. He said a month ago he and his attorney were told that the meeting would be held on July 9 (today), not Thursday. He didn't learn of the actual date until he received a certified letter on Saturday. Because of the long weekend to observe the Fourth of July, Cronshaw said it was not possible for him to submit written testimony because of a requirement that it be filed 48 hours in advance of the meeting.

Valerie Monson can be reached at vmonson@mauinews.com.

Copyright 2003 The Maui News


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