Times of the signs: Holiday Inn still waiting, 5 years later, for sign approval

  • The current sign at the Holiday Inn Express on Sarona Road hangs as the hotel continues to wait for approval to hang the franchise’s trademark sign. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — An application for downsized signs for the Holiday Inn in Kailua-Kona is making its way to the Kailua Village Design Commission, five years after developers first sought permission to erect the trademark franchise signs.

After a tense hearing Tuesday where several County Council members upbraided the Department of Public Works for what they saw as sloppy handling of important documents, the council Public Works and Mass Transit Committee forwarded a revised Resolution 92 to the commission to ensure it’s the same as the application it approved in 2015.

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Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who redrafted the resolution because she said the one provided by Public Works was full of errors, put an April 19 deadline on its return with recommendations from the commission.

“What we have before us is a resolution that has been sitting around this body for five years,” Lee Loy said, taking Public Works officials to task for the long delay.

“My heartburn is that you provided us a factually inaccurate document that this body cannot act upon,” Lee Loy said, adding that the recommendation came from the design commission in November 2015, and “it has been sitting in this department since that time.”

Building Division Plans Examining Manager Neil Erickson said the application was delayed several times because the applicant didn’t provide a complete application, and then officials and the county council had issues with the size of the proposed signs and other details that led to more delays.

Erickson said it’s not up to the Building Division to make recommendations for sign approval.

“Generally, all of these people have the option to make smaller signs and they will be consistent and fair with everybody else that has one reviewed,” he told the council.

That didn’t jibe with the applicant’s recollection. Fritz Harris Glade, addressing the council by telephone, outlined a litany of inattention, lost documents and miscommunication from the department. He said he worked with the design commission and together they came up with an acceptable compromise that the commission forwarded to Public Works in a 2015 letter.

“From my perspective, this has been … I don’t know how to say it politely, but it hasn’t been a pleasant experience. The drawings have been lost at least three times that I’m aware of by the county. … We’ve been kind of the orphan child in this application,” Glade said. “I just feel like I’ve been pistol-whipped here. … We’ve been trying to do everything we’re supposed to and I’m at a loss for what to do next.”

Erickson said he entered the process late, but added, “for our side, it looks like the ball has been dropped numerous times and I can only take responsibility for that.”

Council Chairman Aaron Chung, also of Hilo, called the whole discussion, “concerning, perhaps even disturbing.”

“I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I have got to say from what I heard, from both sides, I have to feel for the applicant,” Chung said. “When you have two different accounts of what went on, inquires have to be made.”

Intercontinental Hotel Groups, which licenses franchises for Holiday Inn, has specific requirements for signs, but has been willing to compromise with local standards, Glade said.

The Seattle-based owners, Kona Hospitality LLC, Han Gyu Kim and Mihyung Kim, had first proposed to erect three signs: a 43-square-foot, 32-square-foot and an 18-square foot one, two of which would front Sarona Road and one on Kuakini Highway. They wanted to put one on a pedestal. That has all changed in the revised application.

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, whose district the hotel is in, said she’d like to stay updated, as the issue precedes her time on the council.

“I do have some concerns about signage size in Kona,” Villegas said. “I personally want to make sure that it’s not billboard size. While the building itself is farther back, it’s right in the heart of our unique and precious little town.”

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Kohala Councilman Tim Richards and Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz took a heads-on approach to the overall issue, saying the county’s economy can’t recover if businesses can’t make their way through the red tape.

“If we want to get our county fixed and our economy really rolling, we have to be very mindful of getting things done in a very timely fashion,” Richards said. “We have a culture issue as far as getting this embraced going forward.”

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