As one of Hawaii’s most popular resort destinations, Ka‘anapali dates to about 1962, when the Royal Lahaina Resort opened. The Sheraton followed a year later, and soon resorts were popping up periodically into the early 1980s.
For visitors, there are few more accessible resort locations than Ka‘anapali. The situation for residents–who are guaranteed coastal access–the reality is a lot different. Any residents who want to surf, fish or just jump in the water at Ka‘anapali Beach can expect a difficult journey when trying to find a parking place. The lots that do cater to the public tend to be cramped and scattered around the various resorts. Signage is often minimal or simply non-existing. Other times, public parking lots are loaded with signs listing restrictions on when people can park there–restrictions that are, in fact, not permitted.
“After the county gave out the [resort] permits, nothing was checked,” Lahaina resident Randy Draper told me recently. “They let guests and employees park in them. So it’s gonna take some time for it to work itself out.”
Draper–a retired boat captain–knows all about this, because he’s been agitating for greater public beach parking access for the last 50 years. That’s right–for pretty much the entire time there have been resorts at Ka‘anapali, Draper’s been calling for more parking.
But now, after all these decades, Draper’s a happy man. That’s because the Maui County Planning Department has finally gotten serious about enforcing the public beach access parking requirements that were part of each resort’s development permit. After months spent researching the resorts’ original permits, Deputy Planning Director Michele Chouteau McLean mailed letters to all the Ka‘anapali resorts on Mar. 2 detailing their compliance–or non-compliance–with the parking regulations (see the chart below for a breakdown of the resorts’ beach parking).
“It’s because I made ‘em do it,” Draper said proudly when I asked him why all this was happening now. “[Attorney] Lance Collins helped me get the county to look at the permits.”
McLean confirmed that she’s been working “back and forth” with Draper on this. “It took a while to research,” she said. “We had to spend time pulling the files.”
In the county’s research, two issues became clear: not all resorts were providing the required number of public parking spaces, while others had put up signs warning those parking there against using the spaces at night. In fact, McLean confirmed, there are no time restrictions on public access beach parking in Ka‘anapali.
On Mar. 2, McLean sent out letters to six Ka‘anapali resorts, as well as Whaler’s Village. According to the letters, which MauiTime obtained, the majority of resorts were providing the required number of spaces. Two–the Westin Maui Resort & Spa and Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club–were not.
“A recent site visit confirmed that the Westin is providing only 28 of the required 30 parking spaces, situated facing the building (facing away from Whaler’s Village),” McLean wrote in her Mar. 2 letter to Westin General Manager Tony Bruno. “You must provide two additional spaces to comply with the requirement of 30 spaces.”
Westin Public Relations Director Sumithra Balraj insisted that the resort is providing the required number of spaces. “The Westin Maui Resort & Spa is offering 30 parking spaces for public beach access without any time restrictions,” Balraj said in an Apr. 1 email to me. “We had informed the county office of our 30 allocated parking spaces and as such, they should have this updated information.”
Far more problematic though is the situation at the Marriott. In fact, McLean herself said in her Mar. 3 email to Draper that included PDF copies of the resort letters she’d sent that she was “curious” as to how the Marriott would deal with their problem. That’s because the Marriott today is providing just 10 of the 30 required public beach access parking spaces.
“The approvals for development of the Marriott required that 30 parking spaces be provided for public beach access, and that employee parking be provided on-site,” McLean wrote to General Manager David Wong on Mar. 2. “Your representative’s compliance report indicated that 35 public beach parking spaces would be provided. A recent site visit confirmed that the Marriott is providing only 10 of the required 30 (or 35) parking spaces. You must provide 20 or 25 additional spaces to comply with these requirements. Perhaps there are additional public beach parking spaces located elsewhere on the property that were not evident during our recent site visits, in which case improved signage must be provided.”
I didn’t even know the Marriott provided any public parking spaces until I walked around the property on Mar. 31. But sure enough, I found the 10 spaces McLean mentioned in her letter, tucked away at the south end of the property. There was a sign labeling them as public, but it was buried in trees and completely invisible from someone driving by just a few yards away. Given the current parking situation at the Marriott, it was unclear to me where the resort would put an additional 20 beach access parking spaces.
Wong left the Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club a couple weeks after McLean sent her letter. Bill Countryman, his replacement as GM, did not return a phone call asking for comment.
The Planning Department also determined that two resorts–the Ka‘anapali Ali‘i and the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel (KBH)–had placed time restrictions on the use of their public access parking spaces.
“Kaanapali Alii’s development approvals did not address any time restrictions for the public beach parking,” McLean wrote to Ka‘anapali Ali‘i General Manager Mark Altier on Mar. 2. “[T]herefore, it is expected that public beach parking be provided at all times. The signs that identify the public beach parking area and spaces shall be corrected to remove the time restriction.”
What’s more, the Ka‘anapali Alii also routinely chains up its lot at night, potentially forcing those who’ve parked their past the “closing time” get their car out of an impound lot. That infuriates Draper.
“The Alii’s had it locked up for 20, 30 years,” Draper said. “The public should be able to go to any beach parking lot and then go fishing without getting their car impounded.”
Altier did not return a phone call asking for comment.
County planning inspectors also apparently found problematic signage at the KBH.
[S]ome of the spaces are not identified at the entrance of each space,” McLean wrote in a Mar. 2 letter to KBH General Manager Mike White (who is also, I must note, both the Chairman of the Maui County Council and the county’s most powerful foe of McLean’s boss, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa). They are each marked with a sign that is hung on the fence at the end of each space; some are appropriately marked on the pavement, while others have faded ‘valet parking’ marked on the pavement. This must be corrected so that each space is identified at the entrance (i.e., marked on the pavement for public beach parking).”
KBH officials did not return an email request for comment.
Then there’s the relatively new Hyatt Residence Club, located between the Hyatt Regency and the Marriott Maui Ocean Club, which opened in late 2014. They have a public beach access parking lot that contains 20 stalls (one of which is designated ADA-accessible) that sits next to the inadequate Marriott’s 10-space lot. Though McLean’s Mar. 2 letter to the Hyatt did not mention inspectors finding any time restriction signs on the property’s 74 parking spaces, my Mar. 31 visit found that each space in this particular lot was marked with a sign that warns against parking there between 8pm and 6am (see photo below).
Jim Cooper, the Residence Club’s general manager, told me that his resort is in compliance and those restrictions are legal. “We have to follow the rules very carefully,” he said. “And we’ve had every inspector in the world here over the last two years.”
Reached on Apr. 1, McLean said that it’s “unclear” whether the time restrictions on those 20 spaces are permitted. She said there were “discussions” in the past about allowing that particular resort to restrict public beach parking access at night to make it easier for delivery trucks to get in and out (the lot sits in front of the Residence Club parking garage). But McLean also said her inspectors were unable to find any documentary evidence that those discussions led to official approvals.
If it turns out the restrictions aren’t permitted, then the Hyatt would either have to remove the signs or find an additional 20 public beach access parking spaces. McLean’s letters also alluded to “initial and daily fines” if any resort remains out of compliance, though she didn’t want to elaborate on dollar amounts when I spoke to her.
In all of her letters, McLean also said her department would “continue to monitor compliance” and called on the resorts to step up enforcement. “[W]e would appreciate your efforts to ensure that the public beach parking is truly being used by the public and not by any hotel vendors, employees or parking valets,” she wrote. “[W]hile we understand that enforcement in this regard is a challenge, we expect reasonable effort.”
Later, I asked McLean what she meant exactly by “reasonable effort.”
“It’s hard to define,” she said. “It’s really hard to do–we know because we do enforcement. But I think that when they realize the county is involved, they’ll make an effort.”
In any case, McLean said her inspectors will return to Ka‘anapali in the next week or two and follow up on any progress the resorts have made. As for Draper, he wants the public to be extra vigilant.
“It’s basically going to be enforced by the public,” Draper said. “People need to be conscious of their environment there. If they’re not watching closely, it can get taken away from them.”
Cover art: Ron Pitts