B&B approved on Alii Drive: Leeward Planning Commission allows project despite cesspool concerns

  • Alii Drive property approved for a bed and breakfast (Hawaii County Planning Department)

  • Alii Drive property approved for a bed and breakfast (Hawaii County Planning Department)

A five-bedroom Alii Drive home a half mile south of Laaloa Beach Park won approval Thursday to become a bed and breakfast establishment, despite concerns about sea level rise and wastewater issues.

The Leeward Planning Commission unanimously approved the application by owner Arthur Arehian to convert the 2,758-square-foot house on a 14,530-square-foot lot at 78-6626 Alii Drive to a B&B of four bedrooms housing up to 10 guests, along with a bedroom for a live-in caretaker.

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The commission agreed with the Planning Department’s recommendation to approve the B&B, but added language requiring the owner to convert the current cesspool to a septic system within five years “if determined feasible” within the limitations of the lot size and the existing house and swimming pool. In addition, the owner will be required to contribute to and join a sewer improvement district if one becomes available.

“That seems like a very reasonable short-term solution and a long-term solution if that’s feasible,” said Commission Chairman Michael Vitousek.

The problem, planning officials said, is that the house was built in the 1980s, when there was a 20-foot required setback from the ocean, which is where the structure’s footprint begins. A new septic system could trigger a special management area permit, which could, in turn, require a certified shoreline survey and require a 40-foot setback under newer regulations.

“Most likely the shoreline would migrate mauka,” said Alex Roy, a senior planner in the department. “To put the burden on the applicant when they have very little room would lead to future problems. … There’s just not the space to put it.”

Roy advocated a “more comprehensive fix, a system-wide fix.”

Roy said the state Department of Health regulates cesspools and they’re outside the county jurisdiction. The state has set a 2045 deadline to have all cesspools converted to a more environmentally friendly alternative. The county, relying on guidance from the Health Department, is trying to address the issue long-term in its general plan, but that hasn’t yet been released.

“Definitely a cesspool on an oceanfront lot is basically going to pump sewage into the ocean,” Vitousek noted.

The county Department of Environmental Management is continuing its efforts to expand municipal sewer systems, but the current system falls short to the north of the property’s location, and a private system falls short to the south. Over 50 lots between the two systems are primarily on cesspools.

Environmental Management didn’t submit comments on the project, but the Department of Water Supply did, noting that the property is served with a 5/8-inch meter allotted one unit of water, or 400 gallons per day, while the property has been using 950 gallons, or three units. Applicants estimate they’ll need 1,000 gallons per day once the project is completed.

Commissioner Mark Van Pernis, who ultimately voted in favor, questioned the county’s role in permitting the project.

“I disagree we should do nothing and hope other agencies will do something,” he said.

John Pipan, planning administrator for Land Planning Hawaii LLC, which represents the owner, said Arehian wants to do the right thing.

“It’s not like we’re averse to doing it,” Pipan said.

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“The applicant has been pumping money” into the project, “trying to contribute to the economy,” Pipan said. “These are uses that are established in zoning code that should be allowed. … It’s consistent with the general plan and zoning code.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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