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Tensions flare in Kailua over new fast food eatery built next to subdivision

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 10:42 AM HST
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KAILUA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu’s 11th Wendy’s restaurant is about to open in Kailua in a few weeks, and surrounding residents are calling on the eatery to build a wall around the property.

The new fast food outlet will have its entrance on Kailua Road.

Uluopihi Loop is behind the new Wendy’s, with its parking lot and drive-thru lane across the street from houses with front lawns that go all the way to the pavement.

“It’s a very quiet, peaceful neighborhood, family-oriented neighborhood. And just having this open property here invites a lot of stuff that we don’t want in the neighborhood,” said Uluopihi Loop resident Laura Perkins.

The new Wendy’s was built on what used to be a Tesoro gas station, with a high rock wall that separated it from the neighborhood.

“It went all the way down,” said Ben Rowe, who has lived on the street for 22 years.

“We had some fully-grown trees that were in here that kind of protected us from the lights that were coming in from the gas station.”

California-based Cotti Foods, which owns the Wendy’s franchises in Hawaii, said it had made adjustments to address the concerns of neighboring residents, including making the restaurant smaller.

In a letter written in 2019 to the Kailua Neighborhood Board, the company said it would replace the lava rock wall with “a 42-inch native plant hedge to help reduce light pollution in the neighborhood and for greater visibility and safety.”

The Uluopihi Loop homes weren’t visible from Kailua Road with the wall.

Without it, residents said they would be disturbed by customers with car headlights from drive-thru patrons potentially shining into bedrooms late at night.

Rowe said he has written several letters to Cotti Foods and others since 2018, but said he had little response from the company.

Late Thursday afternoon, Cotti Foods said it would be reversing its previous stance.

“The decision has been made that there will be a permanent structured wall that will be between the residents and the Wendy’s development,” said Ryan Zacche, who also wrote the 2019 letter to the neighborhood board.

Zacche said he had visited the area to look for himself.

“Once we got our eyes in and heard the community’s concerns and looked at it for ourselves and how bare the back of the development was, the right thing was to move forward and put a wall in,” he said.

Residents should be rejoicing, but Rowe remains skeptical.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said. “We’ve been promised a lot of things and not a whole lot has come true yet.”

The Wendy’s was supposed to open at the end of May, but that has been pushed back.

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Permitting and Planning Department said there were no existing permits or new permit requests to build a wall as of Thursday.

“We are doing everything and pursuing everything as fast as we can to get the wall up before opening in the next couple of weeks,” said Zacche.

“However, if we run into any snags with governmental approvals, we will continue to pursue it and get a wall up as a permanent fix between the Wendy’s and the community.”

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