The LC is a powerful posse. It decides the fate of businesses, and sometimes of whole neighborhoods. With a pass of the pen it can sign the execution order on a bar by rescinding its liquor license. Or its powers can be wielded at the beginning of an establishment’s life, determining whether it will exist at all.
Take the Mynah Bird Pub in Wailuku on the corner of Vineyard Street and Central Avenue, aka Hart’s Corner. At this point it’s just a twinkle in Wailuku resident Jordan Hart’s eye. He’s gotten permission to open his new business from the Maui Planning Department, but the Liquor Commission is still considering his application. Many in the neighborhood have come out against it.
On December 9, the Liquor Commission met to hear presentations from both sides. Chris Hart—a current Maui County Mayoral candidate, former Planning Department Director, building owner and Jordan Hart’s father—testified in favor of the application. He says the project was designed to be in compliance with the spirit and goals of the Wailuku Redevelopment Plan, which reviews Wailuku zoning applications. In fact, his land planning and landscape architecture firm, Chris Hart and Partners, Inc., were the principal consultants who drew up the plan’s zoning guidelines. The Maui County Planning Department staff has said they view the project as consistent with the civic revitalization and creation of mixed-use areas it’s trying to spur.
The Wailuku Redevelopment Agency’s goal has always been to revitalize an area considered a prime example of “urban blight” since the 1960s. But today Main Street has “more commercial vacancies than ever,” while “Market Street is doing OK,” according to planning staff. As recently as ten years ago, 55 percent of downtown Wailuku was designated as “in need of repair” or “beyond repair” according to County studies. Creating areas where people can work, live and recreate without getting into their cars is part of the plan. And, they say, a neighborhood pub can help foster just that.
But many neighbors aren’t so sure. Bill Rees has lived roughly 200 feet from Hart’s Corner for the last five years. He’s organized a petition and presented it to the LC. Rees and a large number of his neighbors are worried about an increase in traffic, evening noise and lack of safety in the neighborhood should a pub move in. Guy Barrows, a Wailuku resident since 1962, petitioned the LC saying, “This has always been a quiet neighborhood. Allowing alcoholic beverages to be consumed at this establishment let alone the noise from the live entertainment or recorded music would be a first for this section of town! I am NOT in favor of it!”
Rees says his petition represents about 109 TMKs (tax map key). If more than 50 percent of the neighbors within 500 feet of the proposed pub are against the LC application, the Commission must deny it. According to Michael Kawagishi, Supervising Investigator of the Maui County Department of Liquor Control, there are 230 owners of real estate within 500 feet.
Rees laments it’s been a steep climb to get signatures on his petition. The Robinson Trust, Cook Trust and A&B all have abstained from getting involved, he says. “If you abstain, you’re essentially voting yes,” he adds. He also claims there are deceased homeowners on the LC’s list of neighbors who ought to be taken off.
At one point he and other neighbors tried to argue that since the Wailuku Hongwanji Mission on East Vineyard Street operates a school, and since an “adult establishment” isn’t allowed so close to a school, the pub application should be denied. He claims he had 40 signatures from Hongwanji parents but the Commission wouldn’t consider it.
And so the LC will again play a pivotal role in determining the direction of a residential and business neighborhood. It will take 60 days from the December 9 meeting before the LC makes its decision.
“I completely understand concerns about music, traffic and safety,” says Jordan Hart. “I live on Main St and work on Market. I’m trying to run a clean, professional gathering place for pau hanas; a place for business people to congregate after First Fridays.” Addressing neighbors’ concerns about a loud dive invading their neighborhood he says, “I’m going for something completely opposite of that.” Greg Mebel, MauiTime