United States District Court, D. Hawaii
SPIRIT OF ALOHA TEMPLE AND FREDRICK R. HONIG, Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF MAUI, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Oki Mollway United States District Judge
Fredrick R. Honig bought land on Maui zoned for agricultural
use. Honig leased the land to Plaintiff Spirit of Aloha
Temple, which, in turn, applied for a Special Use Permit to
build a church and hold religious events on the land, uses
not allowed without a Special Use Permit in the agricultural
zone in which the land was located. After the requested
Special Use Permit was denied, Plaintiffs filed this action,
asserting religious discrimination. Counts I, II, IV, V, VI,
VII, VIII, and IX against Defendant County of Maui remain for
the court are motions for summary judgment filed by
Plaintiffs and the County of Maui. Both motions are denied.
Being International Inc. was incorporated in February 1993
for the purpose of “perform[ing] research and
instruction for individual and global peace, harmony, and
health.” It specializes in “Yoga, Meditation,
Stress Management, Vegetarian Diet, and Drug Free
Living.” ECF No. 183-2, PageID # 2512. Honig was listed
as its president and one of three directors. Id.,
PageID # 2513.
September 1994, Honig purchased property on Haumana Road in
Haiku, Hawaii. See ECF No. 183-2, PageID #s
2479-87.For State Land Use District purposes, the
property was mostly designated for agricultural use, with a
portion designated for conservation use. With respect to the
Paia-Haiku Community Plan and County of Maui zoning, the
property was designated for agricultural use. See
ECF No. 183-3, PageID # 2584. Honig knew the property was
designated for agricultural and conservation use when he
purchased it. Honig Depo. at 43. In fact, Honig had asked his
realtor to locate agricultural land for him to purchase.
March 2003, Honig transferred the property to the Trustee of
The Frederick R. Honig Revocable Living Trust Dated October
1, 1996. The document stated that Honig was also known as
Swami Swaroopananda. See ECF No. 183-2, PageID #s
2002, Honig, on behalf of Well Being International, applied
for the trade name of Maui Gay Weddings, stating that the
nature of the business was “Counseling and commitment
ceremonies.” ECF No. 183-2, PageID # 2518. In April
2003, Honig renewed the Maui Gay Weddings trade name on
behalf of Well Being International. Id., PageID #
2520. At the same time, Honig, on behalf of Well Being
International, applied for the trade name of A Marriage Made
in Heaven, again stating that the purpose of the business was
“Counseling and commitment ceremonies.”
Id., PageID # 2522. A little more than a month
later, Honig, on behalf of Well Being International, applied
for the trade name of Maui Wedding Planners, this time
stating that the nature of the business was “Wedding
Planning & Services.” Id., PageID # 2524.
In July 2007, Honig, on behalf of Well Being International,
renewed the trade name of A Marriage Made in Heaven.
Id., PageID # 2525. Honig admits that these trade
names were created so that Well Being International could
advertise for weddings or sacred unions. See Honig
Depo. at 73, ECF No. 183-2, PageID # 2439. Between September
8, 1996, and December 5, 2015, over 500 weddings were
performed on Honig's property. See ECF No.
183-16, PageID #s 3037-51.
November 2005, Honig signed a lease of the Haumana Road
property to Well Being International on behalf of himself as
lessor and as the president of the lessee. The lease rent was
$3, 400 per month and the lease ran through September 30,
2010. The lease provided that use of the property was
“To Be in accordance with Agricultural zoning and Maui
County ordinances.” ECF No. 183-2, PageID #s 2550-56.
At the time the lease was signed, the property was apparently
owned by the Trustee of The Frederick R. Honig Revocable
Living Trust Dated October 1, 1996, not Honig individually.
See ECF No. 183-2, PageID #s 2503-10.
September 2007, Spirit of Aloha Temple, Inc., was
incorporated; Honig was listed as its Senior Minister.
Id., PageID #s 2557-72; Decl. of Frederick R. Honig
¶ 4, ECF No. 185-1; PageID # 3123. Honig and Spirit of
Aloha Temple practice “Integral Yoga, ” which
“integrates the eight branches of Yoga into a holistic
approach to experiencing Unitive Consciousness.” Honig
Decl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 185-1; PageID # 3123. For purposes of
the present motions, the County of Maui does not contest the
validity of Honig's religion or the sincerity of his
beliefs. Thus, William Spence, of the County of Maui, stated
during his deposition that the County was expressing no
opinion as to the sincerity of Plaintiffs' religious
beliefs. See Deposition of William Spence at 130,
ECF No. 185-5, PageID # 3206. He did note, however, that some
of the proposed uses might not be religious in nature, such
as a commercial wedding business or helicopter flights.
Id. at 131-32, PageID #s 3207-08. The number of
weddings held on the property causes the County of Maui to
characterize Plaintiffs as conducting a commercial wedding
venture on the property.
County of Maui also believes that the Special Use Permit was
not actually sought for church functions. For example, the
County of Maui points out that Honig's sister, Meenakshi
Honig, who testified that she is a board member of Spirit of
Aloha Temple, has never seen the lease for the property.
See ECF No 183-10, PageID #s 2925, 2932. She further
testified that there are no regular congregations of church
members on the property. Id., PageID # 2936. She
also testified that performimg weddings is “not
essential to the belief system” of Integral Yoga.
Id., PageID # 2937.
October 12, 2007, Spirit of Aloha Temple, through Honig,
applied for a Special Use Permit for the property to be used
for a “Church, church operated bed and breakfast
establishment, weddings, special events, day seminars, and
helicopter landing pad.” ECF No. 183-3, PageID # 2592.
The application stated that the property was currently being
used for a “Botanical Garden & Agriculture.”
Id. On June 30, 2008, Spirit of Aloha Temple amended
the Special Use Permit application to include the development
of the Spirit of Aloha Temple, stating, “Church
activities would include a weekly service, classes, special
events, day programs and weddings.” ECF No. 183-3,
PageID # 2593. The court notes that, at the time of the 2007
application, the property appears to have been leased to Well
Being International, not Spirit of Aloha Temple. See
ECF No. 183-2.
August 28, 2008, the County sent the Special Use Permit
application out for agency comment. See Concise
Statement ¶ 12; Plaintiff's Concise Counter
Statement, ECF No. 193, PageID # 3799 (admitting same).
March 30, 2010, the Planning Commission for the County of
Maui held a hearing on the Special Use Permit application.
See Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and
Decision and Order of Maui Planning Commission. See
ECF No. 183-3, PageID # 2583. The Maui Planning Commission
voted 5 to 3 to deny the application, reasoning that a
proposed heliport was not allowed under the Maui County Code,
that many of the buildings on the property lacked permits,
and that agricultural property was not intended for
commercial purposes. Id., PageID #s 2586-87; 2590.
17, 2010, Plaintiffs unsuccessfully sought reconsideration of
the denial of the Special Use Permit, arguing that the denial
violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act of 2000 and proposing that the permit be amended to
include only a church and related church activities.
Id.. PageID # 2587-88; 2590.
December 2011, Honig, as Trustee of The Frederick R. Honig
Revocable Living Trust, leased the property to Spirit of
Aloha Temple, Inc., for $5, 000 per month through December 1,
2019. ECF No. 183-2, PageID # 2575-78. The lease stated that
the property was to be used “As a Botanical Garden in
accordance with Agricultural zoning and Maui county
ordinances.” Id., PageID # 2575. Honig says
that Spirit of Aloha Temple did not look at any other
properties before leasing the Haumana Road property.
According to Honig, the property is sacred and is the
world's “most perfect property.” See
Honig Depo. at 142-43, ECF No. 183-2, PageID # 2456; Honig
Decl. ¶ 27, ECF No. 185-1; PageID # 3128 (“The
Property itself is uniquely sacred to me and the Spirit of
Aloha Temple.”). He says that, in the 23 years that he
has owned the property, the spiritual significance of it has
grown through the spiritual activity that has occurred on the
property. See Honig Decl. ¶ 22, ECF No. 185-1;
PageID # 3127. This spiritual activity includes religious
services, sacred events such as weddings and baptisms, and
classes on spiritual beliefs. Id. ¶ 31, PageID
# 3129. In addition, the founder of Integral Yoga, Sri Swami
Satchidananda, blessed the property in 1997. Id.
¶ 23, PageID # 3127. Honig says that Plaintiffs do not
own other property where they can practice their religion.
Id. ¶ 47, PageID # 3132.
September 2012, the County of Maui issued Honig three
violation notices for building a structure without the proper
permit, conducting transient vacation rentals on property
where such rentals are not allowed, and conducting commercial
weddings on property where such weddings are not allowed. The
County of Maui ordered Honig to cease and desist the conduct.
See ECF No. 183-8, PageID #s 2877-78. The County of
Maui and Honig ultimately settled these matters. See
id., PageID #s 2877-83.
November 21, 2012, Spirit of Aloha Temple, through Honig,
submitted a second Special Use Permit application to use the
property for church activities. ECF No. 183-6, PageID #2803.
Spirit of Aloha Temple sought to use the property for a
classroom on weekdays; a weekly church service; and
educational, inspirational, and spiritual events, including
“Hawaiian Cultural Events, such as Hula performances,
Seminars on Hawaiian Plant Based Nutrition, Cultural Music
Performances, and Spiritual commitment ceremonies including
Weddings.” Id., PageID # 2811.
Maui Planning Department issued a report to the Maui Planning
Commission that recommended approving the 2012 Special Use
Permit application with conditions. See ECF No.
183-7, PageID # 2842-62. The staff report examined the
applicable statutes and regulations, noting that the proposed
use was not permitted in a state agricultural district.
Id., PageID # 2849. It noted that, under section
205-6 of Hawaii Revised Statutes, “unusual and
reasonable uses” were allowed when a State Land Use
Commission Special Use Permit was approved. Id.,
PageID #s 2849 and 2854. The staff report indicated that
there were “guidelines” for determining whether
there was an “unusual and reasonable use.”
Id., PageID # 2854. These “guidelines”
were set forth in Hawaii Administrative Rules §
15-15-95. The staff report examined all of the
“guidelines.” In relevant part, the staff report
indicated that the proposed use satisfied the second and
third guidelines, and that the proposed uses would not affect
surrounding properties or unreasonably burden public agencies
by requiring provision of roads, sewers, water, drainage,
school improvements, or police and fire protection.
Id., PageID #s 2854-55.
staff report ultimately recommended granting the requested
Special Use Permit with conditions:
- Events permitted for a total of 24 attendees (including
employees/staff) and that classes shall be limited to four
(4) per week usually between 10 AM and 4 PM Church Service
- Events permitted for a total of 24 attendees (including
employees/staff) and that a church service shall be limited
(1) per week usually between 10 AM and 2 PM on Saturdays
Church Related Special Events Such as Weddings/Inspirational
Events Shall be Limited by the following:
Maximum number of church related events per year
- 48 - 24 events out of a total of 48 events may have a total
of between 25 to 40 participants including employees/staff
- Events permitted for a total of 25 to 40 participants are
limited to two (2) per month
- In no case may there be more than four (4) church related
events per month
- Shuttles must be employed to transport participants for
events with 25 or more people
Id., PageID # 2844.
Maui Planning Commission then examined the 2012 Special Use
Permit request, receiving testimony supporting and opposing
it. Concerns were raised with respect to the limitations and
dangers of Haumana Road, pedestrian and child safety,
weddings, parties, and alcohol on the property. See
Concise Statement ¶ 35; Counter Concise Statement ¶
35 (admitting same).
the Maui Planning Commission's Findings of Facts and
Minutes noted that: (1) Jessica Caudill had expressed concern
that the proposed uses would dramatically increase traffic on
Haumana Road (where cars have to pull off the road to let
other cars pass), would have negative effects on pedestrian
safety, and raised child safety concerns by bringing
strangers to the area; (2) Antonio Piazza had expressed
concern that Plaintiffs had been using the property for
unpermitted commercial wedding operations even after
Honig's earlier request to conduct weddings on the
property had been denied, increasing traffic in the area and
creating danger because partygoers drank alcohol; (3) Nancy
Gilgoff had expressed concern that, because alcohol was being
served at events, there was increased traffic and an
increased likelihood of vehicle and pedestrian accidents; (4)
Stephanie Gilgoff had expressed concern with respect to
increased traffic, road safety, and the impact on the quiet
neighborhood; (5) William Knowlton had recalled that earlier
cliffside weddings had blocked ocean access, and there were
past illegal commercial weddings, transient vacation rentals,
and yoga classes; and (6) Daniel Mizner had noted that the
proposed uses were inconsistent with the agricultural zoning
and had expressed concern about roadway safety because the
road was only 10 feet wide at points. Lani Starr, on the
other hand, supported the proposed permit. See ECF
No. 185-9, PageID #s 3280-82; ECF No. 183-9, PageID #s
Naish, Plaintiffs' neighbor, told the Planning Commission
in March 2010 that low-speed accidents occurred on the road
all the time, that he had had near misses, and that he had
personally seen two overturned cars on the narrow Haumana
Road. He complained that people drove too fast on the road
and noted that there was no place to pull off the road. ECF
No. 183-4, PageID #s 2708-09.
departments also commented on Plaintiffs' Special Use
Permit application. For example, although the Maui Police
Department did not object to the issuance of the permit, it
noted that the road to the Haumana Road property was
“narrow with no lane markings and no street
lights.” It further noted that the road was so narrow
that it “could not accommodate two vehicles to pass
through the road at the same time.” The Police
Department recommended that the road be widened because, if
cars parked on the road, emergency vehicles would not be able
to pass them and reach the property. It also suggested that
street lighting be installed. ECF No. 183-9, PageID #
Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Land and
Natural Resources also commented on the 2012 Special Use
Permit application, noting that its approval was needed
before any of the proposed activities began. See ECF
No. 183-9, PageID # 2898-99.
State of Hawaii Department of Health, Safe Drinking Water
Branch, noted that it had been dealing with Honig for several
years. It stated that, if the average daily number of people
visiting the proposed temple over 60 days was 25 or more, the
temple would be required to comply with all requirements for
public water systems. That is, such requirements would be
mandatory if the temple had more than 60 events in a year
with 25 or more attendees. ECF No. 183-9, PageID # 2900-01.
Officials also expressed concern about the quality of the
water at the temple and recommended testing the water.
Id., PageID # 2902.
The State of Hawaii's Office of Planning stated:
Pursuant to HRS Chapter 205, lands in the Agricultural
District are limited to agricultural uses and activities that
support agricultural uses. The proposal calls for
non-agricultural uses. In addition, business uses may bring
additional traffic to the property. These non-agricultural
uses will eventually impact the existing botanical garden
activities, since the school, weddings, and other commercial
performances may be more profitable than the botanical garden
activities on-site. Other ...