(BIVN) – A plan to convert a prominent building on the coast of Hilo Bay into a micro-distillery was given an approval on Thursday.
On May 4th, the Hawaiʻi County Windward Planning Commission voted in favor of granting a Special Management Area Use Permit application submitted by the Hawaiian Ola Brewing Corp.
The company plans to convert the existing Wainaku Executive Center into a micro-distillery, restaurant, and bar. The proposal “includes grading for new parking and the installation of a wastewater system to accommodate the new uses on 12.31 acres of land situated in the Special Management Area,” documents say.
Thursday’s meeting was a continuation of a discussion on the Ola Brewing application that was held previously.
“Since our last hearing we have won six international awards for not only our ‘ ʻŌkolehao, the product that we want to make at Wainaku, but also for our current products,” said Naehalani Breeland, the president and co-founder of Ola Brew. “And we strive for this excellence, not just for our company, but for the benefit of our 2,800 community shareholders, and for our stakeholders that are farmers, and our contracting partners. And it’s always our goal to create an environment where that kind of promotes that ‘the rising tide floats all boats’, right?”
Supporters of the project cited the prospect of bringing over 200 new jobs to the Hilo area, while supporting the growth of the island’s agricultural industry.
Some general concerns were raised about the general location of the Wainaku Executive Center, so close to the ocean. Cory Harden, on behalf of the Sierra Club Hawaiʻi Island Group, wrote in testimony that there are “two inconvenient truths” facing the property:
“One is that seawalls don’t stop erosion – they only deflect it to other shoreline areas. And they will not last, due to rising seas and more severe storms.
“The other truth is that one corner of the main building is only about 60 feet from the cliff edge, but the Hamakua coast is slowly crumbling into the ocean. Everyone’s heard of the house falling into the ocean at Honoliʻi. We also know of a house just past the Singing Bridge slowly losing all its shoreline setback. And one of our members grew up in a house three miles down the coast, on a clifftop ringed by hala trees. In her lifetime, all the hala trees have fallen into the ocean.
“So when the seawall starts failing, or the cliff starts crumbling closer and closer to the building, the unfortunate landowner may come back to the Commission seeking permission for repairs. And some developers have been known to extract a questionable permit, only to turn around and sue a municipality when things crumble and go badly.
“Please add a condition, to run with the land, that such permission will not be granted, and any landowner must sign an indemnification letter for any land movement, flood, or sea level rise.”
The Windward Planning Commission voted to approve the permit request. Commissioner John Cross, who said he did work for the Hawaiian Ola Brewing Corp. previous to his appointment, was recused from taking part in the proceeding.