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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Council raises legal tab to fight Felix weddings

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

The Honolulu City Council yesterday approved spending up to $50,000 more to pay private attorneys to represent the city in its continuing dispute with one of their own — City Councilman John Henry Felix — over the wedding business at his oceanfront 'Aina Haina home.

In December of 2001, the city Department of Planning and Permitting cited Felix for operating a commercial wedding business in a residential district. The department fined him $500 and said it will add $100 a day as weddings continue, which has brought the total to more than $78,000.

In October, the city Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the city's decision. Felix said he would take the matter to Circuit Court. Yesterday, Felix declined to comment further on the continuing legal battle except to say that he had removed himself from the discussion of the attorneys' fees.

Felix said he is paid $300 to $500 for each wedding and has an average of one wedding each day.

Felix, his attorneys and consultant maintain that the business is allowed under the city ordinance that permits a "home occupation." He compares the weddings to other home-based businesses such as people who teach hula or swimming, tailoring or photography services.

The city says the business does not constitute a home occupation and that Felix' business goes against the meaning of the zoning ordinances.

The city has hired private attorney Ben Matsubara to litigate for the city because city attorneys would have a conflict of interest in opposing a seated councilman. Earlier, the council authorized $20,000 to hire Matsubara, so yesterday's action allows the total legal tab to rise to $70,000.

Some neighbors and the 'Aina Haina Community Association complained that Felix should end the wedding business, which caters to visitors from Japan. But Felix has said that weddings have been held on the property for more than 20 years and should be allowed to continue.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at 525-8070 or rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.