Few Honua‘ula conditions met so far

While developers of the 670-acre Honua’ula golf community have made efforts to meet a number of the 30 conditions set by the Maui County Council when the project’s zoning was approved in 2008, some community groups said on Tuesday that many critical conditions have still not been met.

As of the most recent report submitted by Honua’ula Partners LLC last month, five of the 30 conditions had been met, including securing approval for a sewage disposal analysis as well as a transportation management plan; working with state and county agencies to improve infrastructure and public facilities in the surrounding area; and submitting an annual compliance report to both the Department of Planning and the Maui County Council.

The council’s Planning Committee, which normally files projects’ annual reports without discussion, allowed public testimony on Honua’ula Partners’ annual compliance report at its committee meeting Tuesday morning.

“This report is being heavily scrutinized by both us and the public,” said Planning Committee Chairman Don Couch. “Normally, council will get the report and file communications immediately. It is unusual to have them come up and discuss it here, but I felt it was important to keep an eye on this project and see what is going on.”

The three-phased project district development, formerly known as Wailea 670, is expected to include up to 1,150 housing units mauka of the Wailea Resort, an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, retail and commercial components, a 12-mile network of trails and bike paths and a 40-acre preserve for native plants. The project’s Phase I zoning application was approved by the County Council in 2008; the Maui Planning Commission approved its final environmental impact statement last year.

But some community groups say that developers of the $1.2 billion project have failed to meet a number of the other critical conditions set by the County Council, like the 250-unit affordable housing that would be built off-site in Kaonoulu and constructed first, before the market units at Honua’ula.

The Kaonoulu housing project was expected to commence construction “within two years, provided all necessary permits can be obtained within that time frame,” according to the 2008 condition. However, no construction has taken place because the state Land Use Commission found in February that the project was in violation of the conditions placed on the housing development in 1995.

“The council was led (in 2008) to believe that the Kaonoulu site would require less infrastructure investment, was ready to go and that workforce housing there would be an ideal fit,” Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said Tuesday. “These claims no longer appear accurate.”

Debate as to whether or not residential apartments may be allowed under Kaonoulu’s “light industrial” zoning may be a reason the state found the project to be in violation of its land use conditions, county officials said, though they do not know for sure.

“Because there was no written decision in the order (from the state LUC), we don’t know a lot of specifics as to what the commission ordered,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Hopper. He also noted that there have been apartments, like the Iao Parkside Condominiums, built in areas zoned for light industrial use.

Other community members were concerned about the uncertain future of a native dryland forest located in the southern part of the project area that is home to a number of native plants, including the rare wiliwili tree.

“This is a very special treasure we have on Maui,” said Laura Herrmann, who testified “as a community member.”

“Ten thousand years ago, there was a lava flow in the area that created the kind of soil that protects wiliwili trees from predators like kiawe that often destroy the habitat,” she said. “There is ample opportunity for research that can bring dollars to the state.”

Honua’ula Partners, under Condition 27 of its county ordinance, is required to draft a habitat conservation plan for the management of the area, and that would be approved by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Corps of Engineers, with a conservation easement “no less than 18 acres and no more than 130 acres.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended in a 2010 letter sent to the developers that “the entire 130-acre at the southern end of the project merits preservation.”

However, the project’s environmental impact statement, which was approved by the Maui Planning Commission last year, proposes only a 40-acre preserve. However, Honua’ula Partners has also designated an additional 350 acres off-site in East Maui, and the Kanaio and Auwahi areas, as conservation easements, according to the developer’s owner representative Charlie Jencks.

“Everybody looks at the 130 acres as being an end-all solution to the problem, but that 130 acres is not premium habitat,” Jencks said. “There is habitat elsewhere that provides a much greater public and environmental benefit.”

Honua’ula Partners has submitted a draft plan to both state and federal agencies and expects a final approval from the state DLNR this summer, according to it compliance report.

“The latest proposal submitted to the Planning Department is 40 acres. We still do not have confirmation from all the agencies as to what that magic number is,” said county planner Ann Cua. “This is one of the conditions that is holding up the project from going to the next step.”

Cua said the next step is for Honua’ula Partners to submit an application to the Maui Planning Commission for Phase 2 of the project to be approved, which will not be granted until many of the conditions, like the habitat conservation plan, are met.

“It just takes one guy in one agency to say ‘I’m not going to get through this today; I’m too busy,’ and things get stalled,” Jencks said. “It was a difficult approval. I started working on the project in 2001, and we didn’t get zoning until 2008.”

Asked about a construction timeline, Jencks said it is entirely dependent on how long it will take to secure the necessary permits, satisfy the conditions of approval and get project financing. However, he said he expects to start construction within the next 10 years.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.