Moana Surfrider redevelopment proposal stirs up controversy

Greg Dickhens
Greg Dickhens
Tim Tybuszewski
Tim Tybuszewski

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The largest hotel owner in Waikiki, Kyo Ya, is looking into a new redevelopment project. Kyo Ya's properties include the Royal Hawaiian, the Sheraton Waikiki, the Princess Kaiulani, and the Moana Surfrider.

It is at the Moana Surfrider that Kyo Ya is requesting a special zoning variance. Kyo Ya proposes to bulldoze its ten story diamond head tower at the Moana Surfrider to build a twenty-six story hotel and condominium. The Honolulu City Council has approved the project, but redeveloping it will require permission from the department of planning and permitting for a zoning variance. That variance would allow Kyo Ya to encroach sixty feet into the one hundred foot coastal setback along Waikiki's famed beach.

Kyo Ya's President, Greg Dickhens, says, "What we are proposing is a redevelopment of that tower, about forty feet from the shoreline and from the existing seawall. So, all of the project will happen mauka of the seawall."

In the mid 1970s, as hotels were sprouting up everywhere, Waikiki special district guidelines were implemented to rein in growth, particularly shore side. As a result, there's been no major development along Waikiki Beach in almost thirty years. In requesting the variance, Kyo Ya believes it has unique circumstances, saying the Diamondhead tower is adjacent to the Banyan wing of the Moana, which is on the historic registry, and that it sits on the narrowest site along Waikiki Beach. Dickhens also said that, "The Waikiki special guidelines encourage redevelopment and structures in Waikiki that would otherwise deteriorate over time."

On the contrary, a coalition of environmental groups is drawing a line in the sand, telling the Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) that allowing the zoning variance will set a bad precendent. Tim Tybuszewski of the Surfrider Foundation said bluntly, "That's not really a variance. That's just ignoring the rules."

Donna Wong from the advocacy group, "Hawaii's Thousand Friends," calls the redevelopment unacceptable and says Kyo Ya should have known the rules when it bought the property. She stated, "If the variance is granted for this hotel and this exception, then it'll just be a domino effect all along Waikiki beach."

Now, it is up to the DPP. If the variance goes through, construction could start in mid 2010, but the coalition says it will appeal to the zoning board before that can happen.

Thursday's planning and permitting hearing was the fifth public hearing on this project. There have also been presentations to the Waikiki neighborhood board and Waikiki Improvement Association.

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