Maui County is trying to prevent a business owner from running a luau and holding other commercial events without a permit on coastal properties in Paia.
A May 12 complaint in the 2nd Circuit Court alleges that Kihei resident Jenna Yap runs her Maui’s Finest Luau business and hosts wedding events “almost daily” on adjacent beachfront properties at 49 Hana Highway and 65 Hana Highway.
In statements accompanying the complaint, longtime residents of nearby Ae Place said the luau and other events that have taken place since July are six to 10 times a month “incredibly loud”, with amplified music, live bands or disc jockeys.
A neighbor reported closing the windows and walking to the other side of his house to try to drown out noise, including screams from a crowd and Tahitian-style drumming. Another neighbor described a rap concert “with a lot of swearing and ‘f-bombs'” that ended around 10 p.m
In addition to Yap and Maui’s Finest Luau, the lawsuit was filed against Paia Bay Properties LLC, which owns the property at 49 Hana Highway and has a long-term lease on 65 Hana Highway. Yap leases both properties, according to the complaint.
In a statement Thursday, Yap said she is in the process of hiring a law firm to respond to allegations of code violations in the lawsuit.
“We appreciate the opportunity to clarify some misunderstandings, including the longstanding history of the county, the properties and notables involved,” said her statement. “We’re just a small business that engages our local community and provides cultural experiences for visitors and Kamaaina alike.
“While we appreciate the hard work of our county officers, we hope they will pursue any suspected violations of the Code with the same or similar zeal. We also understand that the public may have questions at this time, and we believe the court proceedings will confirm those answers. Therefore, we ask the media and the public to be patient and await a judicial review.”
According to the lawsuit, the commercial activities take place in special management and coastal residue areas and require assessments and permits that neither Yap nor the property owners have received.
Michael Baskin of Paia Bay Properties said in a statement Thursday that the property at 65 Hana Highway received a county occupancy certificate in October 2017 to operate as a restaurant.
“All reviews and approvals for SMA and building permits have been approved,” he said. “It took over five years to get these permits. All parking has been approved.”
He said the restaurant has health and food facility permits from the state health department.
“Restaurants are allowed to serve food, make music and host events.” he said.
According to the lawsuit, the Mauka portion of this property is designated as a commercial country town while the Makai portion is designated as residential.
Baskin said the lot at 49 Hana Highway is public/quasi-public, which allows for parking and church use.
The lawsuit says a zoning inspector was hired to investigate Aug. 5 after the county planning board received video footage from neighbors showing a commercial luau operating on the properties.
The next day, Yap and an associate went to the department to discuss plans to host Hawaiian cultural events on the properties. At the meeting, which was also attended by planning director Michele McLean, Yap was told that she had to apply for permits and could not operate her business on the properties until she received permits, the lawsuit said.
At the meeting Yap “was also informed that the owner of the property had in the past held events where musicians and guests were on the residential portion of the property, which is prohibited by the zoning and within the coastal area,” it says in the complaint.
On August 7, the day after the meeting, Yap hosted what appeared to be a wedding at the property, according to the lawsuit.
Warning notices for the Coastal Zone Management Act and zoning violations were posted on the property Aug. 13 after Yap refused to accept notices from a county zoning inspector, the county said. The alerts said Yap could face civil and criminal penalties if activities continued without a permit, and could face fines of up to $100,000 per incident and up to $10,000 per day.
Violation notices were served to Yap on Dec. 29 after the county reported that it continued to hold events on the properties without a permit.
The communications ordered Yap to do so “Cease and cease all activity immediately.” The notices also ordered Yap to pay a $71,666 fine by Jan. 27, with additional fines accruing during the period the violation is ongoing.
The notices allowed Yap to challenge the violation orders.
Since receiving reports of violations, Yap has continued to hold events without a permit, and the planning department has continued to receive complaints and documentation in the form of videos and photos from neighbors living within 100 feet of the property, according to the lawsuit.
“Several times a week they are exposed to loud, amplified music, noise from crowds, and streams of people entering and exiting the properties via the Hana Highway and the beach.” says the lawsuit.
Maui’s Finest Luau is promoting a two-hour Hawaiian-Polynesian show, including a Polynesian fire knife dancer, food and soft drinks on its website through the end of the month. From June 1st, the website will offer a “cultural show and dinner experience” takes two and a half hours. Attendees can bring their own alcoholic beverages, the website says.
Prices range from general admission of $125 for children and $165 for adults to VIP admission of $169 for children and $199 for adults.
Attorney Terrance Revere, representing Paia Bay Properties, said Thursday the lawsuit was closed “Just more harassment.”
“Others and I have said and proved for years that the planning director is using county resources to engage in personal vendettas.” said Revere.
In another case, in 2015, Maui County fined Baskin $500,000 for 30 reports of violations on issues including short-term leases, special administrations, zoning, and building codes.
Planning Director McLean said: “There is nothing personal about our enforcement actions against Maui’s Finest Luau. They have held several events in violation of both zoning and special administrative region requirements, which several neighbors have brought to our attention.”
A hearing is scheduled for July 1 before 2nd Circuit Environmental Court Judge Peter Cahill on the district’s motion for an injunction.
“Because the violation is ongoing, an injunction against further violations is required,” according to the district.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at [email protected]