Landowner rejects proposal for new West Maui harbor

A proposal for a $200 million West Maui Harbor will not go beyond the words and conceptual images in a glossy, 42-page booklet because the landowner, The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, has no interest in pursuing the idea.

Instead, the 22-acre vacant lot in Lahaina that had been used as a dumpsite and a homeless encampment for years is destined to be a $60 million, 203-unit housing project, with 102 affordable multifamily units.

On Friday, developer Stanford Carr said that his development company had been hired by the Weinberg Foundation to develop the housing project, which already has apartment zoning but needs a special management area permit from the Maui Planning Commission. A draft environmental assessment was published in September, with a 30-day public review period ending Nov. 23.

Carr said that the environmental assessment continues to be reviewed by public agencies.

But there was little, even the knowledge that the property is beyond reach, that could deter the enthusiasm for the idea of a West Maui Harbor for Drake Thomas, owner of Lahaina Welding, who has pursued the proposed marina with Harbor Quest Hawaii partners Lance Thomas and Al Pelayo.

“We would still love to do this,” he said Friday at his shop near Mala Wharf. “We don’t believe financing would be a problem.”

The Thomas brothers and Pelayo propose severing Front Street next to the Old Lahaina Luau and the Lahaina Cannery Mall to create a 125-foot-wide, 650-foot-long channel at Mala Wharf and a harbor in the 22-acre property. Their plans include 143 berths for 50-foot vessels, 160 retail shops with 1,200 square feet each, three restaurants, a vessel haul-out facility, a Coast Guard station near the channel entrance and a Polynesian Voyaging Center and an Institute for Celestial Navigation.

Drake Thomas said it wouldn’t be practical to create a bridge over the channel for Front Street traffic, and he estimated it would take motorists only two minutes (traveling at 18 mph) to take a longer route around the harbor.

Thomas made a presentation on the project July 23 before the Maui County Council’s General Plan Committee.

He told council members that the harbor’s water area would be three times larger than the Lahaina Small Boat Harbor and it would provide refuge for vessels during Kona storms or hurricanes. The new harbor also would address an acute shortage of available boat slips, alleviate congestion in Lahaina Harbor, provide a loading dock for visiting cruise ship passengers and make room for a possible interisland ferry terminal.

On Friday, Thomas said he had received enthusiastic support from government officials for the project, and he and his partners are considering approaching billionaire Larry Ellison, co-founder and chief executive of Oracle Corp., to enlist his help with the project. Ellison purchased most of Lanai last year, and Thomas said that the new West Maui Harbor could be an asset for ferry services from Lahaina to Lanai.

Carr said he was “flabbergasted” that Thomas and his partners were publicly proposing plans for the Weinberg property without his knowledge or the knowledge of Weinberg officials.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. Weinberg officials “had no idea about what was going on.

“I was taken aback by what they’re proposing,” he said.

Thomas said that he and his partners made numerous attempts to contact Weinberg officials to pitch the harbor concept and had not made contact until receiving a letter last year from an attorney that said the landowner was not interested in the project.

Carr said that the harbor project would be daunting on many fronts, including the need for “many, many discretionary permits” from agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

He pointed out that the project would require dredging the island and breaching Front Street, “a very important arterial roadway.”

Just looking at such a project’s environmental impacts, “I don’t think it would ever be approved,” Carr said.

Meanwhile, he said that he and the Weinberg Foundation are proceeding with the Kahoma Village project, which will consist of a mix of three- and four-bedroom, single-family dwellings and two- and three-bedroom multifamily units.

Site work already has been done to remove tons of containers, abandoned cars, refrigerators, “you name it,” from the site, Carr said. “We’ve cleaned it up. I think the community is very pleased with what we’ve done with respect to improvements.”

Developers have contributed land for Kenui Street improvements, provided low-income rental housing and will be making roadway improvements along Front Street, he said.

Affordable housing is direly needed in West Maui, and “you couldn’t ask for a better, prime location” than next to the Lahaina Cannery Mall, Carr said. “We’re happy to be collaborating with the Weinberg Foundation to pursue this opportunity.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at