One by one, members of the Honolulu City Council expressed their support for a new 220-room, four-story Marriott hotel where the old Laie Inn once stood.
And one by one, they couched their affirmative votes as a matter of compliance with the law, not to be interpreted as a vote in favor of developing the countryside.
“We are constrained by what’s before us. We have to review this particular application by what’s required by the law. And being the body that sets the law for the county, we have to follow our own actions,” said Council Chair Ernie Martin, whose district includes the North Shore and Koolau Loa moku that opponents of the project say the seek to protect.
“Our vote here today should not be indicative of any other project that may or may not come before us,” he said. “What we’re voting on today should be limited to the matter that is before us.”
Martin didn’t say the magic words, but his comments were clearly a reference to the Envision Laie proposal put forward by the same developer — Hawaii Reserves Inc. on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — and supported by the same organizations — Brigham Young University-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
That proposal is being mulled as part of the debate over the five-year update to the Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan, which contemplates the future of the entire northeast corner of Oahu and weighs complex issues like employment, long-term sustainability and the housing shortage.
Some proponents — dressed, as always, in powder blue Envision Laie T-shirts — parroted those talking points again Friday. They talked about jobs for BYU-H hospitality students and the need to grow.
But developers were careful to frame the Marriott hotel matter as much simpler than all that. The new “inn” will be built on land already zoned for a hotel. The Special Management Area permit process is procedural in nature and narrowly defined to look at the impacts on coastal resources. The Environmental Assessment for the project found that there would be no significant impact.
They said they’ve already made considerable concessions to community concerns and that they’ve “shown good faith.” They agreed to a drainage plan, a signalized crosswalk across the highway, and a 15-foot public access easement across a separate property. They characterized those as “extraordinary” conditions.
Council members seemed to agree.
“I realize that it’s not perfect,” Vice Chair Ikaika Anderson said. “But I think that the community and the applicant have done their best.”
Breene Harimoto said that whether or not he liked the idea of a four-story hotel in the countryside was irrelevant. It’s about compliance with the law.
To highlight the separation between the hotel approval and the broader development plans for the area, Harimoto asked Hawaii Reserves executive Eric Beaver and Group 70 lead architect Jeff Overton if the new hotel could stand on its own — even if Envision Laie never comes to fruition.
Their answer: Yes. The hotel is needed to meet current needs and demands.
Opponents see the Marriott proposal as a piece of a much broader intrusion into Hawaii’s rural lifestyle. They talked about keeping the country country, about the lousy traffic along the two-lane Kamehameha Highway and about the flooding issues in the area that should be addressed. (An amendment added to the bill Friday will require a master drainage plan before a building permit is issued, instead of before the hotel can open its doors.)
One opponent told Council members that history would remember them either as the people who saved Koolau Loa — or as the people who gave it away.
Council members sought to distance themselves from that dubious distinction.
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