Some uneasy over proposed makeover

WAILUKU – The parking area between Iao Theater and Maui Sporting Goods is being proposed for a makeover that has some businesses in the area a little uneasy.

The Maui Redevelopment Agency that reviews renovation projects in the Wailuku area has proposed paving a parking lot and creating a plaza area with trees and a bench at an undeveloped site on the Happy Valley side of the Iao Theater.

“It’ll be functional, safe and quite a bit more attractive,” said agency board member Bill Mitchell about plans for the Iao Square Project. “The way people are parking now is not code-compliant.”

The project proposes to divide the area in a portion on a block bordered by Market and Vineyard streets into two parts: an approximately 160-square-foot plaza and 625-square-foot parking lot.

The agency, an advisory board to the mayor’s administration and the County Council, estimated the cost to build the plaza at $180,000 and the parking lot at $75,000. The project is expected to take about eight weeks to complete.

Some of the businesses in the parking-challenged Wailuku town area are concerned about the project.

Richard Dan, who owns several properties and stores along North Market Street including Cash for Gold, is worried that the reconfigured parking lot means a loss of parking stalls.

The currently unstriped, gravel parking lot area can pack in anywhere from 20 to 25 cars, he said. An additional seven stalls outside of the proposed parking area will be eliminated for the creation of a driveway from Vineyard Street in the new configuration.

Although the proposed paved parking area will have a total of 24 parking stalls, Dan estimates that about a half-dozen parking spots will be lost when the driveway area is included.

“We’re gonna lose parking, there’s no two ways about it,” he said. “You can’t take 10 pounds of rice and put it into a 5-pound bag. . . . Everybody agrees we need more parking.”

Mitchell disagrees with Dan’s contention that parking stalls will be lost. He says the county does not perceive the area as a recognized parking lot; it’s just a vacant lot.

Other opponents of the parking plan blame the proposed Iao Square plaza as the reason for the loss of parking stalls. The plaza lies between the Police Resource Center and the theater and the new paved parking lot.

The agency, which is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the County Council, did not view this plaza space as viable for parking due to its uneven terrain.

Erin Wade, the Small Town County planner assigned to the agency, said the plaza area plans call for having a bench and decorative plants, including three to four canopy trees. Maui Botanical Gardens has voluntarily tended to the plants on the sidewalk along Market Street for more than two years, and Wade hopes it will maintain the proposed plant life in the plaza.

Mitchell said the space also was designed to be flexible for multiple uses and could potentially provide a spot for food vendors, for example.

“It’ll definitely be a plus for Market Street and First Friday,” said Mitchell. “It’ll be a space for multi-functional uses.”

Despite his disagreements with the agency over the parking area, Dan said he agrees with Mitchell about the safety issues in the area. He said many people, including his wife, have slipped in the sloping parking lot due to the uneven gravel surface.

“The lot itself is dangerous, period,” he said. “My wife last year took a face-first fall and had two black eyes from it. People walk through it, and they fall frequently. They gotta asphalt it.”

Plans for the plaza and parking area address this safety concern with the installation of a 3 1/2-foot railing dividing the two areas so that patrons can see the physical drop, Wade said.

Dan also had concerns about the plaza area potentially obstructing sight lines from the Market Street sidewalk into the parking lot. Some of his female employees end their shifts late at night, and he will sometimes have a male escort them to their car, he said.

Wade said safety was a major concern in the project plan. The parking lot will have three light fixtures and motion detector lights in darker areas. She also said the trees will not obstruct sidewalk views because the lowest branches will hang no lower than 6 feet above the ground.

Project planners and the area business owners would like the “underutilized” Police Resource Center to be improved to the point where an officer could be stationed in there in the future, Wade said. The Maui Police Department is looking into the costs associated with the needed renovations.

Plans for project, which was engineered by Otomo Engineering, are in the hands of the mayor’s administration and the County Council.

Wade said that the agency had hoped to have the project included in this year’s administration budget but that didn’t appear to be the case.

The chances of the project being included in next year’s administrative budget and approved by the County Council are “pretty good,” she said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at