Kaunakakai’s new multipurpose building nears completion
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
A major new building in Kaunakakai is nearing completion after construction delays following its controversial approval in 2017. The building, located on the corner between the American Savings Bank and the current DreamTech Verizon store, will contain eight small studios and three commercial spaces, according to owner Stan Wada of Oahu.
Wada said he is still deciding whether the units will be used as hotel rooms or as longer-term rentals. Each unit will have a small refrigerator and a bathroom, with six units on the second floor and two on the ground floor for wheelchair accessibility. Three commercial spaces will be available for professional use.
“When I was younger I used to rent space to do some work on Molokai, we used to stay at the old Hotel Lane, about 45 years ago,” Wada said. “We used to rent cheaper hotel rooms – it was my vision to still have some of that. Like a dream, I guess.
His vision is to provide lodging in Kaunakakai so that guests don’t have to rent a car to eat in town.
“I think rental-wise, I think we can keep it lower than other places – that’s my goal, anyway,” he said.
Wada told the Molokai Dispatch last month that he hopes the building will be completed by the end of this year or early 2023, after COVID-related delays.
“I just wanted to do it, it’s been so long,” he said.
Wada said he hoped it would make “some kind of contribution” to the Molokai community. He’s been coming to the island for decades and owns a house here.
He said the construction work mainly employed local workers.
“I don’t know why I do it, actually,” he admitted of the build. “I know it won’t be profitable, the community is too small, but it will serve its purpose, it will give work to some people, make some kind of contribution there.”
The project was approved by Molokai’s planning commission in 2017, despite a majority of testimony against it.
Wada purchased the vacant lot in 2006, and it had been vacant since 1991, when a fire destroyed the former Napa Auto Parts store that stood there, according to county records.
Dispatch reported in 2017 that concerns included disruption to the Saturday market, which was taking place on the property before COVID, while other witnesses were concerned about increasing congestion in town.
“I have been involved in many planning projects on this island, and no one has ever asked to build a hotel in Kaunakakai,” Walter Ritte said in 2017. “My wife keeps telling me that the city is getting too crowded, no longer recognize people in supermarkets, crowded gas stations… We should save space for what Molokai people want to do.
At the 2017 Planning Commission meeting, resident Kau`i Manera recalled two small hotels that once stood in Kaunakakai.
“The reason why I support the project is because it’s not a new concept,” she testified, being one of the only members of the community to express her approval. “[When we were young] we were coming to Kaunakakai from the east for shopping but always knew there was a hotel….The concept of having a hotel in downtown Kaunakakai is not new so I think that would destroy any idea that it is not [a good idea].”
Others question Wada’s motivations for the project.
“We have a lot of people with new ideas and they want to change Molokai and we forget that the people who live here, when their changes don’t work, guess who has to clean up their mess? It’s the people who live here,” Cynthia Luafalemana said in 2017. “It’s not our ideas, it’s their dreams, not our dreams.
A 13-space car park is provided at the rear of the building, according to the plans on file with the municipality.
At the 2017 meeting, Planning Commissioner Lori Buchanan raised concerns about permit conditions. Wada has applied for a Special Use Permit and Special Management Area Use Permit for construction within Kaunakakai Country Town Business District zoning. The hotel portion of the project falls under the 1-12 bedroom transitional vacation rental category, but would not be subject to the same rules as other vacation rentals due to zoning. Buchanan requested that for oversight and good management purposes, a hotel manager be available on-site for any issues that may arise, as with other vacation rentals.
Another condition placed on the approval of the project, at Buchanan’s suggestion, was that the permit be valid for five years from the date of issuance of the license of occupation, rather than the original 10 years. The permit would be presented to the Planning Commission for review and renewal at that time.
The project was approved by the Molokai Planning Commission with a 5-2 vote.
Wada reiterated last month his goal to help Molokai through his building, which will employ a local manager, as well as long-term maintenance and housekeeping staff.
“I just hope we provide good to the community, especially jobs,” Wada said last month. “It’s tough for Molokai. If it provides a few jobs, it will help in a small way.