January 4, 2011

Environmental Coalition Defends Waikiki Beach From Controversial New Development

Honolulu, HI (Jan. 4, 2011): Yesterday, a coalition of environmental groups and concerned citizens filed an appeal against the Dept. of Planning & Permitting’s decision to allow Kyo-Ya Hotels to build their proposed 26-story hotel/condo tower on Waikiki Beach. Refuting the “hardships” claimed by the developers, the coalition states that the proposed structure violates existing zoning laws, triples the height of the Moana’s current Diamond Head Tower and encroaches onto the public beach.

Kyo Ya disallowed building

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On Monday, representatives from Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, the Surfrider Foundation, KAHEA and the Ka Iwi/Sandy Beach Coalition, along with preservation advocate Michelle Spalding Matson, submitted their case to the Zoning Board of Appeals. They are in opposition to Kyo-ya Resort & Hotels’ request for a variance that would allow a 26-story hotel-and-condo tower and private swimming pool to be built directly on Waikiki Beach. Specifically, the variance under consideration would allow for a 60-foot encroachment into the 100-foot shoreline setback zone required by Waikiki Special Districtlaw.

The petitioners testified at the DPP’s September hearing and shared their significant concerns about the proposed tower complex and thereby established standing to appeal the DPP director’s decision to approve the project before the Zoning Board of Appeals. The non-profit organizations represent many members and beach users who will be dramatically affected by the towering development and the shadow it will cast over Waikiki’s beaches, existing zoning laws and future developments as other hotels try to claim the same right to encroach into the coastal height setback.

“Thirty five years ago, the city was clear when it adopted the Waikiki Special District guidelines as law — no more towers on the beach,” said Hawaii’s Thousand Friends spokesperson Donna Wong. “With a lot of foresight, the city of Honolulu envisioned a generous Waikiki shoreline with reasonable building setbacks from the public beach. But now Kyo-Ya is claiming as a hardship that they should be allowed to violate the existing height and shoreline setback requirements because the State made a dubious and impossible promise to widen the beach by 180 feet way back in 1965. Yet no past sand replenishment projects or upcoming ones can guarantee widening the shoreline that much; so their argument is based on a phantom condition.”

“Defending beaches is what we do, and Waikiki is certainly worth defending,” said Ka Iwi/Sandy Beach Coalition spokesperson Gary Weller. “Kyo-Ya claims that they are denied ‘reasonable use of the land or building’ due to the current zoning conditions and the narrowness of the property. Yet they knew these facts when they purchased the property, which could be completely renovated without the need for a variance.”

“The DPP Director acknowledges in his analysis that the established coastal height setback requirement ‘effectively limits the building height to about 170 feet,'” says Michelle Matson, a preservation advocate who serves on the Diamond Head Neighborhood Board. “Yet in the absence of proving the hardships for granting a variance, he has arbitrarily approved the requested 26-story height of 308 feet, which exceeds the coastal height setback requirement by an additional 133 feet. This coastal height setback is a zoning ordinance regulation, separate and distinct from allowable ‘flexible options’ offered under other DPP guidelines.”

“This variance disregards existing zoning laws and sets a dangerous precedent for a whole new round of beachfront development.,” warned Stuart Coleman, the Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Coordinator. “While other high-end hotels like the Halekulani have done an impressive job of abiding by the zoning laws, this kind of variance could allow Kyo-Ya and other developers to disregard the existing laws and make the same arguments for other hotels like the Royal Hawaiian’s beachside tower.”

“This is not in the long-term best interests of our members and Hawaii’s signature destination, and it is not the best interest of Waikiki beach itself,” Coleman adds. “Given the impacts of hurricanes, tsunamis and sea level rise, disregarding the established shoreline setback is just foolish. We are confident that the facts are on our side, and we hope that the Zoning Board of Appeals will take a long, hard look at the city’s decision-making process for this proposal.”

“If this variance is granted, the proposed Kyo-Ya project will degrade the neighboring Kuhio Beach Park, which is the only one in Waikiki proper,” says Marti Townsend, Program Director of KAHEA. “This beach is not just for tourists. Our members and their families have enjoyed diving, surfing, swimming and worshipping here for generations. These respected practices will be undermined by this massive castle in the sand.”

Contact:

  • Donna Wong, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends: 808-262-0682
  • Gary Weller, Ka Iwi/Sandy Beach Coalition: 808-203-8217
  • Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation: 808-942-3841
  • Marti Townsend, KAHEA: 808-372-1314
  • Michelle Matson: 808-923-2254