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Thursday, November 18, 2004



Controversial Maui
chapel gets permit

A church gets county approval
after citing a law on religion

WAILUKU » The Maui Planning Commission approved a special-use permit last night for Hale O Kaula church to build a chapel on agricultural land.

The church, which argued its religious freedom was being denied through burdensome zoning laws, also will be getting an undisclosed cash settlement as a result of negotiations with Maui County attorneys.

Church Elder Robert Poulson said he looked forward to building the chapel in Upcountry Maui and to establish good relations with some nearby residents who opposed the development.

"I hope we can be good neighbors. We're going to try to turn this around for everybody," he said.

The Maui Planning Commission granted the permit but imposed a number of conditions, such as limiting the daily hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The commission, in a 5-0 vote, also limited the number of people gathering in the proposed chapel to not more than 75 for regular services and 150 for four special events a year.

The church, which had been conducting services at its chapel in Haiku, built a minister's residence and an agricultural building on a 6-acre lot at the end of Anuhea Place in Kula but was denied the chapel permit in 2001.

It appealed the commission's decision under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000.

In 2002, U.S. District Judge Samuel King denied the church an order to have the county issue the permit and noted it was not clear that the county officially prohibited church members only from meeting on the property to engage in religious activities.

County attorneys held a settlement conference with the church in June, approving the reopening of a contested-case hearing and the commission meeting yesterday.

Jon Thuro, an Anuhea resident who opposed the chapel's development, said he was stunned by the decision.

Thuro said the church has generated traffic on the private road up to 11 p.m.

"We're the ones being burned. We're the ones living on this street," he said. "What is the county thinking?"

Commission Chairman Ransom "Randy" Pilot, who had denied the permit three years ago, said he decided to vote in favor of it because the church had agreed to provide a fire sprinkler system -- an item it had refused to install in its previous application.

At the special hearing in the Maui Planning Conference Room yesterday, church attorney John Rapacz argued that various county agencies had noted the chapel would pose no burden based on assurances it would install certain facilities, including water tanks.

Church attorney Charles Hurd said the commission's decision does not settle the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Maui County for the alleged violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

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