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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kula Lodge rebuilding approved

Maui News

WAILUKU, Maui The Maui Planning Commission approved a rebuilding application for Kula Lodge, in a 5-4 vote that turned on the question of whether the new rooms could have kitchens.

They won't.

The number of rooms being proposed 15 by owner Fred Romanchak will not change. But they will be bigger, and in a bid to lengthen stays, he had planned to include kitchens.

That was not an issue when the public hearing was held last week in Kula. However, the commission was not ready to vote then, so the meeting was adjourned for a special session Tuesday in Wailuku.

More testimony was heard, mostly a repeat of worries expressed earlier. Noise was the big one, but traffic, smells and pollution are also worrying neighbors.

There has been a lodge on Crater Road in different forms for more than 50 years, and Romanchak has approvals for a reconstruction that would allow kitchens, even if the project district ordinance that created the special zoning for Kula Lodge and Silversword Inn didn't.

Paul Fasi, the county planner who handled Romanchak's latest application, said he couldn't explain how the kitchens got through before because he wasn't the planner then.

Kitchens or kitchenettes are a routine amenity in hotels, and the lodge is a hotel, but since it has a project district zoning, it was determined that it doesn't have "hotel rooms," it has "lodging rooms."

These are defined as "rooms or a group of connected individual living units," without kitchens.

The commission was split, with four members apparently willing to approve kitchens nevertheless: Chairman Wayne Hedani, Bruce U'u, Lori Sablas and Kent Hiranaga. However, they were not willing to vote for a motion to approve without kitchens.

There was no sentiment on the commission to prevent Kula Lodge from modernizing, and even most of its critics said they saw the need for some changes. The Kula Community Association debated the issue for a long time, never managing a consensus either for or against, but it presented a list of proposed mitigating conditions.

Some of these, such as no amplified outdoor music and a quiet period from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., were imposed as conditions.

Others, such as the reconfiguration of the entrance, were addressed during the application process.

Just getting approval does not ensure change, though. Romanchak still has, for a few more months, his old approval, but he doesn't like the design.

Now he has a design he likes better, but he needs to find financing for his $15 million project.