Sunday, July 18, 2004

Felix shells out $49,500
fine for wedding business

Former City Councilman John Henry Felix has paid the city $49,500 for operating a commercial wedding business at his Aina Haina home in violation of city zoning regulations from 1999 to 2002.

"I thought it was excessive, but I went ahead and paid it anyway," Felix said. "You can't fight city hall."

Felix continues to operate the business from his home but is no longer in violation.

The city issued Felix a notice of violation and ordered him to stop holding wedding ceremonies at his home in October 1999. The department said the city Land Use Ordinance prohibits commercial weddings in residential districts.

Felix, who was a city councilman at the time, took his case before the Zoning Board of Appeals, claiming his operation is allowed under city law because it is a home occupation. The appeals board ruled against him in October 2001, so he took his case to state court.

In October 2002, Circuit Judge Eden Hifo ruled that wedding businesses are allowed in residential districts under city zoning laws if they are home occupations. But she found that Felix's operation did not qualify because the employees of the business did not reside under one roof. They lived in two separate dwellings on the property.

In response to Hifo's ruling, Felix connected the two structures.

But by that time the city said Felix had accumulated $98,800 in fines. The city assessed him an initial $500 fine plus $100 for every day he continued to operate the business in violation of city zoning.

Felix felt the fine should have been $28,400 or $100 only on days he conducted weddings. And he believed he should have been required to pay just 10 percent of the fine according to past city practice regarding continuing violations.

The two sides reached a tentative settlement November 2003. The Zoning Board of Appeals accepted the agreement at its meeting in March.

The city hired a private attorney to represent its Department of Planning and Permitting for the case. But Deputy Corporation Counsel David Tanoue said the city would not have been able to collect much more than the settlement amount.

He said the fines stopped accumulating when Felix "complied with the letter if not the spirit of the law," when he connected the two dwellings.

City & County of Honolulu


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