KAILUA-KONA — Although the Kailua Village Design Commission last week recommended a thumbs-down on signs proposed for the local Planet Fitness, there’s still a problem: The signs are already there.
What happens next remains to be seen.
“Whether the sign comes down is a question we’re all sort of waiting to see,” said Shaun Roth, chairman of the Kailua Village Design Commission, on Friday.
The sign code limits signs within Kailua Village to 22 square feet, with even smaller limits for signs within the district core. But in “unique cases” where strict enforcement would be too burdensome, the council can grant a request for variance via a resolution.
Any request, however, has to be justified, and all requests have to go through the Design Commission for a recommendation.
Roth said the commission gets a lot of business owners and applicants who make a strong effort to work with commissioners on things like signage, and in return the commission tries to work with applicants to create a plan that can work for everyone and fit within county standards.
But that might not have been the approach Planet Fitness took before putting up signs that exceed standards on the walls that front Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Henry Street.
With the signs already up since the new business moved into the old Borders building, Plant Fitness went before the commission last Tuesday asking for the variance.
The commission recommended that the county decline Planet Fitness’s request.
Commissioners made their decision after about a half dozen people spoke out against the variance application in either written or oral testimony, far more than what the commission sees for the typical agenda item.
In a statement, Gabrielle Lawlor, a partner at the local Planet Fitness, said they’re aware of the concerns about signage and are working to find a resolution that works for everyone.
“Our goal is to provide great service in an amazing space and have signage that allows everyone to know there is now an affordable fitness option in Kona,” Lawlor wrote. “We look forward to continuing to grow in wonderful state of Hawaii while always honoring the local traditions and views of the people we are looking to serve with our fitness centers.”
The County Council has the final say on whether to approve or deny a variance. It’ll be up to the applicant as to whether or not to move forward with its application despite the Kailua Village Design Commission’s recommendation.
Lawlor didn’t respond to a follow-up question about whether the business still plans to pursue the variance.
At the start of March, the Planning Department received the variance application in the matter, and included with that was a sign permit application seeking the OK for two wall signs (each 167 square feet in size) for Planet Fitness.
That’s the same size as signage for which a variance was approved for Borders, which formerly occupied the same space, stated a letter addressed to the commission included in the application. That letter also said Kailua Village standards of one sign per side would also be followed rather than the two signs allowed by the sign code.
Graphics included in the application illustrated the proposed signs — measuring roughly 22 feet by 7.5 feet — as well as how the signs would appear on the building’s walls. Those are substantially similar in appearance and size as the signs Planet Fitness has already installed.
The variance application also includes a plan review from the Department of Public Works in response to the permit request. In comments, the department said the proposed signs exceeded the allowed square footage and instructed the applicant to submit a variance application to the Kailua Village Design Commission so the commission could review the proposal and move the application forward.
The sign code puts enforcement of its laws within the jurisdiction of the director of DPW, who is required to issue notice to a violator if it’s been determined that a rule was broken.
In addition to being required to fix the problem at their own expense, the violator can also be fined up to $500 with an additional $100 per day for every day the violation continues past the deadline to fix it.
A representative for DPW couldn’t be reached Friday.
Roth, speaking for himself, said he plans to carefully scrutinize any future request for a variance from Planet Fitness.
“Based on their track record so far,” he said, “the likelihood of them getting a variance is very small.”