Environmental clearance for Kihei project

WAILUKU – The $72 million Downtown Kihei project cleared its environmental review Tuesday.

The Maui Planning Commission accepted the development’s final environmental assessment and determined that the project poses no significant impact to its surroundings, including neighboring makai wetlands.

The commission’s action means Krausz Companies Inc., the project developer, will not need to do a more extensive environmental impact statement. Although the development advanced with the unanimous consent of commission members, its traffic mitigation plans for the middle of congested central Kihei remained unresolved.

Commission members were told work was ongoing on an updated traffic study, which would be used as a basis for congestion mitigation measures. Those are expected to be discussed as Krausz Companies seeks a special management area permit from the commission and a community plan amendment and a change of zoning from the Maui County Council.

Commission member Max Tsai, co-owner of the Maui Powerhouse Gym at the Azeka Place Shopping Center, said that he’s familiar with Kihei traffic, which he called “horrific.”

And, “there’s a huge homeless population there,” he said, while urging developers to provide security for the project.

Downtown Kihei plans call for a “pedestrian-oriented development” with a village square, promenades and a four-story, 150-room hotel affordable for visitors from Neighbor Islands. The project includes a movie theater, restaurants, shops, businesses and medical offices on 27 acres bisected by Piikea Avenue.

The project’s north parcel lies between the Piilani Village Shopping Center and the wetlands mauka of the Kihei Longs. Its south parcel is between the segment of Liloa Drive makai of homes surrounding Manino Circle and the wetlands mauka of the Azeka Mauka Shopping Center.

Aside from Piikea Avenue, nearby roads include Liloa Drive, Piilani Highway, Lipoa Street and South Kihei Road.

The potential for South Maui traffic congestion was demonstrated March 4 when police detoured motorists while investigating a pedestrian fatality near the intersection of Piilani Highway and Waipuilani Road. While police said they received no resident complaints, motorists reported near gridlock with two-hour travel times from Wailea to Kihei.

Tsai asked about the San Francisco-based project developers’ traffic mitigation plans.

Planning consultant Colleen Suyama of Munekiyo & Hiraga said that the developer is redoing a traffic study after more information was sought by the planning commission and the county Department of Public Works.

Consultant Keith Niiya of Austin, Tsutsumi & Associates Inc. said traffic data has been collected for South Kihei Road, Piilani Highway, Piikea Avenue and Lipoa Street. A report on the study is being prepared and will be submitted to the Public Works Department and the state Department of Transportation, Suyama said.

Commission Chairman Kent Hiranaga said he’s not a fan of a roundabout’s ability to handle high volumes of traffic, and he asked the developer’s traffic consultants to look at the capacity of the Kihei roundabout in light of the proposed project.

Niiya said traffic counts were done at the roundabout at the intersection of Piikea Avenue and Liloa Drive, though he did not disclose the results of that portion of the study.

The Kihei roundabout, which allows continuous counter-clockwise traffic movement through the intersection, was completed last year and opened to motorists April 9. Its construction cost taxpayers $2 million.

After Tuesday’s meeting, county planner Ann Cua said preliminary traffic mitigation measures proposed include constructing an additional left-turn lane during construction for east-bound traffic from Piikea Avenue into the project site; installing a traffic signal for an as-yet-unnamed road in the middle of the development; and monitoring traffic at the intersection of Piilani Highway and Piikea Avenue to determine, if traffic increases to overcapacity levels, whether to build an additional left-turn lane onto the highway, providing then double left-turn lanes at the intersection.

Other planned improvements to the area include grading, landscaping, underground utilities, drainage facilities, lighting and a below-grade parking structure.

Government agency comments on the updated traffic study will be gathered before the project returns to the commission for a special management area permit or on to the County Council for rezoning and the community plan amendment, Cua said.

The developer needs a community plan amendment from business-commercial to hotel for a 2.6-acre portion of the property, Cua said. The amendment also includes a change in the language of the Kihei-Makena Community Plan’s planning standards to allow a maximum height of 60 feet (instead of the current limit of 35 feet) for a 44,180-square-foot movie theater.

The proposed change of zoning is from residential to a combination of business, open space and hotel, she said.

Krausz also owns the Piilani Village Shopping Center, which was purchased in 2003. It later bought the property mauka of the Azeka Mauka Shopping Center.

The developers aim to begin construction in the summer of 2015.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.