Plan brews up trouble on Molokai
A proposal to build a brew pub has caused a not-too-friendly stirBy Russ Lynch
The Maui County liquor commission's next meeting is likely to be lively tomorrow when the panel hears public testimony on whether a Molokai developer should be allowed to open a brew pub.
The local newspapers on the Friendly Island have taken opposite sides on the issue. A local pastor has suggested that the pub's location across from a school will lead to the corruption of minors.
Letters and editorials on the island have charged the developer with being evasive, deliberately misleading people by referring to the pub as a restaurant, disguising who owns it and fudging about how many people will be hired and when, among other things.
Developer Mike Rogers, a Molokai resident and an executive of the Molokai Business Association, says the criticism is "based on blind ignorance."
He calls his planned Molokai Brewing Co. operation a restaurant with a beer manufacturing plant that will sell locally brewed beers, only for consumption on the premises.
He said he expects to get through the licensing process and open the place next month. The company's position is that it will be a dining place, with a menu ranging from pupus to steak dinners, that also serves alcohol.
It would be across the street from Kaunakakai's elementary school, but the developers say traffic will turn away from the school and landscaping will largely hide its presence from the kids.
Anyway, Rogers says, the liquor license application already passed a major hurdle, when businesses and residences within 500 feet were given their chance to object.
That doesn't satisfy the Rev. Mike Zarle, pastor of the First Assembly of God church in Kaunakakai.
Zarle bought advertisements in a Molokai newspaper predicting that a family will lose a child "because of the greed of a few who disregard all precautions of building a liquor establishment near a school, church or playground and we have all three."
There will also be violence, Zarle and his supporters predict.
"If they have a bar they will have fights. Ask any police officer. Also almost all domestic violence has alcohol involved," said one of Zarle's advertisements. (Zarle could not be reached for further comment.)
Rogers has responded with printed statements defending his position and asking residents to write to the liquor commission supporting the license application.
Zarle's group have equally pressed for people to write opposing it.
The county's liquor administrator, Frank Silva, said he has had a lot of correspondence on the issue. He declined to say how many or what direction the letters take, saying the proper place for that disclosure is the 9:30 a.m. hearing tomorrow at the Mitchell Pauole Auditorium in Kaunakakai.
The opponents say they have at least 1,200 letters of support for their stand.
Normally, the commission would decide to issue or deny a license at the end of such a hearing, Silva said, but if the public input is as big as expected there might be a delay, he said.
"It's a small community. Everybody gets involved," he said.
It is normal for issues on Molokai to become very public and the two local weekly papers seem to fuel that, bitterly opposed to each other as they chase the same advertising dollars and circulation in a population of only about 7,000.
George Peabody, publisher of the Molokai Advertiser-News, is labeled as an opponent of the brew pub. Not so, he said in an interview. He said he has editorialized in favor of the business's right to do what it can legally on the property.
The other paper, the Dispatch, was being "false and libelous" when it said he opposes the pub, Peabody said in a e-mail message to the Star-Bulletin.
But he also forwarded editorial comment to appear in this week's issue of his paper questioning the "character, trustworthiness and maturity," of Rogers and his brewmaster, Richard Stueven.
They keep talking about a "restaurant" when it's really a bar, Peabody said.
The Dispatch editorialized in favor of the pub. Publisher Gerry Anderson said it will be good for tourism, for employment, for Kaunakakai and for families.
"Molokai needs a good affordable family restaurant that serves beer and wine," his editorial said.
Opponents of the pub say the favorable position taken by the Dispatch and the opposition of the Advertiser-News are easy to understand - Molokai Brewing advertises in the Dispatch and doesn't in the other paper.
Peabody said there is no truth whatever to that claim. Officials at the Dispatch could not be reached for comment.