Kahinani Apartments, on the corner of Kamehameha V Highway and Kahinani Place, has stood neglected and abandoned for about 15 years. Now, one of the neighbors in Kamilola Heights is concerned about the health and safety of this constant eyesore and wants Maui County to take action.
No one is sure exactly when the last tenants moved out of the building. Sean Ellis, who grew up in the Heights neighborhood, remembers when the garden beds and playground area were busy with residents.
“It was a place where people who were starting off with young families would live,” said Ellis. He believes that there were at least 20 occupied units, with one-bedroom apartments on the ground floor and two-bedroom units upstairs.
“It’s sad because this is my neighborhood and it’s being run down,” said Ellis.
It has been almost two years since anything has been done on the property that faces the highway about one-quarter mile west of Hotel Molokai. Molokai Fire Inspector Rick Schonely said that in August of 2011 the overgrown dry brush was cut down and an abandoned vehicle was removed seven months after an official request for service was issued.
“It is hazardous and does need to be taken care of,” said Schonely, “but it takes time.”
Ellis first raised his concerns with Maui County Councilmember Stacy Crivello in November of 2013. During a walk-through of the property, Ellis showed Crivello the black mold, rotted drywall and abandoned garbage inside the building. Ellis said Crivello was going to report this issue to the Maui County Fire Marshall for follow-up.
“She (Crivello) told me she couldn’t do anything after we viewed the property,” said Ellis. “I was supposed to get an update from the Fire Marshall on this matter and nothing happened, not even a call or any contact with him,” said Ellis. “I’ve made calls to the county offices in Maui and they all passed the buck.”
“Everything is Maui this, Maui that, where is Molokai?” asked Ellis. “That’s why I say this is the neglected island, this is a neglected island. For them to feed the greed and not feed the need, where’s Molokai’s need? To me it’s appalling. They put all the money into Maui and none here on Molokai.”
After feeling ignored by Maui County officials, Ellis took matters into his own hands and produced a video to air his complaints on Akaku: Maui Community Television. The video, titled “Molokai the Neglected Island?,” expresses Ellis’s frustration over the problem.
In a phone interview with Crivello today, she disputes this version of the story. “The local government is going through the process, it’s not something we slept on,” said Crivello. “I understand his frustration but nothing is happening overnight.”
While Crivello admits that the situation does present some legal difficulties, she believes she took appropriate action. “I never said I was not doing anything on this,” she said. “How much we can infringe on this property is limited. If it is hazardous to the community and is filled with hazardous materials we have to get the necessary legal advice.” Crivello also said her staff did phone Ellis to offer an update.
One problem with cleaning the property is finding the responsible party. The property has been the subject of litigation since about 2005, according to attorney Glenn Melchinger, who represented Japanese property owner Hatsuko Otsuka, doing business as Alteka Company Ltd. based in Honolulu.
A buyer for the property was found several years ago but a judgment executed against Otsuka placed a lien on the property, clouding the title, said Melchinger. Since about 2007 when the property went into foreclosure it has been under the jurisdiction of State Foreclosure Commissioner James Dandar, said Melchinger. It is uncertain what resources or level of responsibility the State of Hawaii has in maintaining a foreclosed property. A phone message left for Dandar was not returned.
Meanwhile, Ellis’s video got the attention of Maui County officials. Yesterday, Schonely submitted a new request for service asking for brush abatement for the overgrown vegetation. He is not overly concerned now that everything is green. But as soon as the surrounding overgrown brush dries up Schonely believes this creates a serious fire hazard.
Another request for service yesterday came from Maui County Building Inspector Anthony Fukuoka. The request mentions several health and safety issues that could result from the crumbling building and its retaining wall. With no retaining wall or culvert, water from the building washes into the nearby riverbed.
How this deteriorating building is affecting the environment is one of Ellis’s central concerns. He wants to know if the soil or water supply has been polluted.
“One of my main reasons for the objections is for the kids who are waiting for the bus at the bottom of the street,” said Ellis. “Every time it rains the river flows on both sides of the road and every time a car passes, splash. Sooner or later somebody’s going to get sick.”
Ellis believes this could be a health concern for the school children as well as the neighbors who live across from the abandoned property.
“It also drops the value of everyone’s property,” he added. “They are making this look like a ghetto. When this was built (around 1978), it was supposed to be the Hawaii Kai or Kahala of Molokai and it’s not.”
A call was placed today with the Department of Health inspector on Molokai, Cathleen Shimizu-Sakamoto. The message has not yet been returned. (This story will be updated when a return call is received.)
For Schonely — who said the local fire department has received numerous complaints about this building over the years — the goal is to “clean the lot, board it up and resolve all the issues. For fire prevention this needs to be rectified, period.”
From Ellis’s point of view, he would like to see a new owner come in and restore the property.
“I would like the county to condemn it or restore it. Use it for someone who can live here,” he added. “Use it for starter homes. The only equal opportunity housing we have is in Maunaloa and no one wants to live in Maunaloa; with gas at $5.22 a gallon nobody can afford it.”