Maui County is seeking to stop a business owner from operating a luau and holding other commercial events without permits on shoreline property in Paia.
A complaint filed May 12 in 2nd Circuit Court alleges that Kihei resident Jenna Yap is operating her business Maui’s Finest Luau and hosting wedding events “almost daily” on adjoining beachfront properties at 49 Hana Highway and 65 Hana Highway.
In declarations accompanying the complaint, longtime residents of nearby Ae Place said the luau and other events, which have occurred six to 10 times a month since July, are “incredibly loud,” with amplified music, live bands or disc jockeys.
One neighbor reported closing windows and moving to the far side of his house to try to drown out noise, including screaming from a crowd and Tahitian-style drumming. Another neighbor described a rap concert “with a lot of swearing and ‘F-bombs’ “ that ended at about 10 p.m.
In addition to Yap and Maui’s Finest Luau, the lawsuit was filed against Paia Bay Properties LLC, which owns the parcel at 49 Hana Highway and has a long-term lease for 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 the county has had with the particular properties involved and particular personalities,” her statement said. “We are simply a small business that employs our local community and provide cultural experiences to visitors and kamaaina alike.
“Although we appreciate the hard work of our county officials, we hope that they zealously pursue all alleged code violators with the same or similar zeal. We also understand that the public may have questions at this time and we believe those answers will be borne out through the judicial process. As such, we ask the media and the public to be patient and await judicial review.”
According to the lawsuit, the commercial activities are occurring in special management and shoreline setback areas, requiring assessments and permits, which neither Yap nor the property owners have obtained.
Michael Baskin of Paia Bay Properties said in a statement Thursday that the property at 65 Hana Highway received a certificate of occupancy from the county to operate as a restaurant in October 2017.
“All inspections and approvals for SMA and building permits were approved,” he said. “It took over five years to obtain these permits. All parking has been approved.”
He said the restaurant has health permits and food establishment permits from the state Health Department.
“Restaurants are permitted to serve food, have music and host events,” he said.
According to the lawsuit, the mauka portion of this property is zoned business country-town, while the makai portion is zoned residential.
Baskin said the property at 49 Hana Highway is zoned public/quasi-public, which allows for parking and church uses.
The lawsuit says a zoning inspector was assigned to investigate Aug. 5 after the county Planning Department 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 included Planning Director Michele McLean, Yap was told she needed to apply for permits and couldn’t operate her business on the properties until receiving permits, according to the lawsuit.
At the meeting Yap “was also informed that in the past, the owner of the property had held events in which musicians and guests were located on the residential portion of the property, which is prohibited by the zoning and within the shoreline area,” the complaint says.
On Aug. 7, the day after the meeting, Yap hosted what appeared to be a wedding a reception on the properties, according to the lawsuit.
Warning notices for Coastal Zone Management Act and zoning violations were posted at the property Aug. 13 after Yap refused to accept the notices from a county zoning inspector, according to the county. The warning notices said Yap could face civil and criminal penalties if activity continued without permits and said fines could be up to $100,000 per incident and up to $10,000 a day.
After the county reported she continued to hold events on the properties without permits, Yap was served with violation notices on Dec. 29.
The notices ordered Yap to “cease and desist all activity immediately.” The notices also ordered Yap to pay a fine of $71,666 by Jan. 27, with additional fines accumulating during the period the violation continues.
The notices allowed Yap to contest the violation orders.
Since receiving the violation notices, Yap has continued to hold events without permits and the Planning Department has continued to receive complaints, as well as documentation in video and photos, from neighbors who live within 100 feet of the property, according to the lawsuit.
“Several times a week, they are subjected to loud, amplified music, noise from crowds, and streams of people entering and exiting the properties from the Hana Highway as well as the beach,” the lawsuit says.
On its website, Maui’s Finest Luau advertises a two-hour full Hawaiian/Polynesian show, including a Polynesian fire-knife dancer, food and nonalcoholic beverages, through the end of the month. Starting June 1, the website offers a “cultural show and dinner experience” lasting two and a half hours. Those attending 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, who represents Paia Bay Properties, said Thursday that the lawsuit is “just more harassment.”
“Others and I have been saying and proving for years that the planning director has been using county resources to engage in personal vendettas,” Revere said.
In a separate case in 2015, Maui County fined Baskin $500,000 for 30 notices of violation over issues that included short-term rental, special management area, zoning and building code laws.
Planning Director McLean said: “There is nothing personal about our enforcement actions against Maui’s Finest Luau. They have conducted multiple events that have violated both zoning and Special Management Area requirements that were brought to our attention by several neighbors.”
A hearing is set for July 1 before 2nd Circuit Environmental Court Judge Peter Cahill on the county’s request for a preliminary injunction.
“As the violation is continuing, an injunction against further violations is necessary,” according to the county.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.