Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, February 8, 1999

Wedding mills
belong in the churches

THEY are a familiar weekday sight at local cathedrals: The resplendently white-attired bride and groom, adorned with island flowers, surrounded by beaming family and friends wielding video cameras. How darling that, of all the places in the world, these tourist lovebirds choose romantic Hawaii to take their vows.

Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can cause problems. And that seems to be happening more and more in Hawaii, with entrepreneurs envisioning wedding mill operations in residential neighborhoods like Nuuanu or agricultural areas like Kahaluu. Thus far, they have been mostly unsuccessful.

The latest commercial assault, however, is in Aina Haina, where Susan M. and Richard K. Mirikitani want to start a wedding service in a beachfront home called the Bayer Estate, located right next door to Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church.

Why the Mirikitanis want to do this is quite understandable. The house (they obtained its lease from a family trust) has a grassy lawn overlooking photogenic Maunalua Bay. They got it on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places in 1997, which means certain commercial activities are permitted, even if not normally allowed in residential areas.

The nearby church is already a popular locale for weddings. And the mostly visitor-based business could be a potentially lucrative one, bringing in thousands of dollars a week.

This would be swell for Susan and Richard, whose brother, City Councilman Andy Mirikitani, disagrees with their plans. But would it be good for their neighbors who, unlike the enterprising couple, actually live in the peaceful community and whose families have resided there for decades?

Not according to determined Gregg Kashiwa, a lifelong resident of the area and a leader of the project's opposition. The 57-year-old development consultant is worried that, once a wedding mill starts humming at the Bayer Estate, every house along the water in Aina Haina and all the way up to Portlock and Hawaii Kai could become a target for crass commercialization.

Imagine the caravans of mini-buses and 30-foot-long limousines causing congestion and danger on already speedy Kalanianaole Highway. Think of the nonstop noise from weddings and photo sessions every hour, six days a week, when many of the residents are house-bound elderly who simply want to enjoy their retirement years.

But mostly contemplate this common-sense concept: Marriage ceremonies belong in churches. "All weddings should be directed to churches, especially in these hard times" says Kashiwa. "Churches put the money back into the community, like how Calvary-by-the-Sea helps the homeless, teens and the needy. Until the churches are all booked up, and there's a need for more places to do weddings, only then should we consider performing them en masse at private homes."

IN total agreement is Rep. David Stegmaier (D-Kalama Valley, Hawaii Kai, Portlock), who has introduced legislation this session to clarify the historic preservation law. HB 1378 and SB 1453 would ensure that historic properties like the Bayer Estate keep within the allowable ranges of usage found in their zoning districts, and that their activities not negatively impact nearby properties. Councilwoman Donna Kim, who heads the city's zoning committee, would welcome such legislative clarification, Kashiwa says.

Hawaii still wants to be the place where tourist lovebirds fly to get married. But they should be flocking to churches.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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