When I first heard about the plans for a Nov. 2 picketing protest at Pa‘ia Inn, I was told the issue was a “huge deal” for Pa‘ia residents. “It’s about how [Michael Baskin, the owner of Pa‘ia Inn] is still running Pa‘ia Inn ILLEGALLY, and keeps harassing the Aarona ohana who is one of the last Hawaiians to own beachfront property, behind [Flatbread Pizza],” the call to action read. The claims had all the flavors of a popular social media activism campaign.
“It has to do with Pa‘ia Inn, and the denial of his special use permit to operate nine rooms,” Francine (Mopsy) Aarona told me in a phone conversation Monday. “That means five rooms which are already in violation is included in that permit so he was shut down completely. We want enforcement to happen. That is our quest.”
She was referring to a Sept. 25 decision by the Planning Commission to deny a special use permit to Pa‘ia Inn for the operation of nine rooms. While hotels and resorts are prohibited in the Pa‘ia Town, a Country Town Business District, the County Code allows special use permits for transient vacation rentals up to 12 rooms if applicants meet a set of criteria.
Following a previous permit denial in 2016 and subsequent appeal by Pa‘ia Inn, retired Judge E. John McConnell was selected as the hearing officer for the contested case. In Judge McConnell’s findings, it was recommended that the Planning Commission reverse their previous decision and approve the special use permit for Baskin and the Inn. Yet, the commission voted 5-1 to reject the hearing officer’s recommendation, with Commissioner Lawrence Carnicelli explaining that he disagreed with McConnell’s facts, especially regarding the claim that there would be no deleterious effect on the public for the proposed use.
Since the decision, Baskin has continued to operate the Pa‘ia Inn while contesting the permit denial in the Second Circuit Court.
“It’s true the application for nine rooms was denied by the Planning Commission,” County Communications Director Rod Antone said in a Nov. 5 email, “However, by mutual agreement, the Pa‘ia Inn can continue to operate during the appeals process, and is currently in full compliance with all county requirements.”
This didn’t stop Mopsy and Protect Pa‘ia from rallying outside the Inn on Nov. 2. “We want enforcement to be done and that’s the whole thing in a nutshell regarding the demonstration,” Mopsy said. “We want the community to be aware of it, we want the county to be aware of it – that the community will not stand for it anymore, enough is enough. He’s been operating making big bucks. We want enforcement and we will continue to let our voices be heard.”
For Baskin and the Aaronas, this is just the latest in an ongoing feud. “We are in full compliance so there’s no action for the county to take,” Baskin said Monday. “Mopsy is working with competitors to access the beach. She is saying we are blocking beach access when in fact she is the one that is blocking beach access,” he alleged, referring to an easement that allows shoreline access from Ae Place which has become another subject of contention between the neighbors.
On Oct. 30, days before the Nov. 2 rally, Protect Pa‘ia shared a post on Facebook from the Aaronas claiming that Baskin has been bullying the neighbors. “Today he brought surveyors to survey a 3 foot path that runs through my property that has already been surveyed and is a shoreline access for the neighbors who live on AE Lane only. My husband told him to leave and pulled the pins and apologized to the surveyors,” the post read.
Then, on Nov. 1, Baskin filed a lawsuit in the Second Circuit Court regarding the incident and other encounters relating to the easement. The suit claims that Baskin possesses a deeded and recorded easement for the property at 40 Ae Place, and that this access has been blocked by the Aaronas.
The next day, the demonstration happened outside Pa‘ia Inn along Hana Highway, not without conflict. “He tried to prevent us, he called the police, and he marked it that we were trespassing on his sidewalk,” Mopsy said.
“We only contacted the police on trespassers who were harassing our guests and staff and interfering with our business,” Baskin responded, adding that protestors were blocking the driveway and wrongfully telling guests the Inn was not legal. Mopsy said the demonstrators were informed by police about their rights and limitations, and the rally commenced peacefully.
When asked about the group’s use of the Hawaiian flag, Mopsy said, “That’s our hae – that’s our flag. This is native country, this is native county, this is native land. It was ours before everybody else’s and that’s our flag. We stand to that flag. Even though we’re supposedly American citizens, that’s our flag… but it doesn’t mean that we are racist.”
In our conversation, Mopsy continued to invoke her family’s heritage and history with the land. “He already made accusations in the testimony or videos, that’s his private beach, Baby Pond,” she said. “How dare he. We don’t even call that our private beach. Our piko for our keiki, they’re all in Baby Pond. This area means a lot to the Kekahuna ‘ohana as well as the Kane ‘ohana who lived here for 25 years and they put up with a lot of harassment.”
Baskin argued, in response, that the Aaronas are misinforming the public about Pa‘ia Inn and are aligned with the Inn’s competitors. He countered with appeals to the Maui Island Plan: “We are part of a well planned community that preserves the region’s small town ambiance and rural character, that accommodates the future needs of residents and visitors in harmony with the region’s natural environment and traditional uses,” Baskin said. He added that he agrees that hotel and resort development should be prohibited in the area.
Likewise, Mopsy expressed distrust towards Baskin. “We’re planning to give the community more insight to show his intentions of overpowering this town and of course he will say he’s trying to better the town,” she said. “We say to him, what is so wrong in living a simple life, quietly, without 20,000 tourists like Lahaina.”
Whether a nine-bedroom transient vacation rental puts the Pa‘ia community on the slippery slope towards being a resort town is questionable, but shows the fears of locals. This highlights the debate, as our island population and the visitor industry grows, about what spaces should be reserved for locals and which areas should welcome visitors. It begs the question of whether a transient vacation rental in a country town area is better than one in your neighborhood. It invites us to examine the difference between transient rentals and hotels. And it forces us to face the conflict between county-level ordinances and a history that has disenfranchised native people and separated them from land.
Social media campaigns easily miss this nuance and drive action before the basic question is addressed: Is this really the fight to address these concerns?
Photo courtesy Michael Baskin
Discussion: 11/9/2018: Do you agree with the County Code that a 12-room transient vacation rental can be allowed to receive special use permits to operate in Country Town Business Districts such as Pa‘ia, Makawao, and Hana Town?
This week we talked about the Protect Pa‘ia rally outside Pa‘ia Inn.
See our article: https://mauitime.com/news/politics/protests-at-paia-inn-owner-claims-activists-spread-misinformation
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