Affordable housing project to bring kids home — residents

KIHEI – South Maui workers and residents said that a planned 600-unit housing project in north Kihei would help make housing affordable for the younger generation and “bring kids home.”

A County Council Land Use Committee meeting held Wednesday night at Lokelani Intermediate School drew about 30 attendees, mostly residents who either lived or worked in Kihei and who testified in support of the project.

“I have a daughter living on the Mainland. She would love to come back home, especially now when it’s cold over there,” said Ray Shimabuku, who represented the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “She’d love to own a home here in Maui. This (project) is for all the working families.”

The $220 million project being developed by A&B Properties Inc. involves approximately 600 residential units ranging from single-family homes to multifamily flats or townhouses. The project would cover about 94.3 acres mauka of Piilani Highway between Kaiwahine Street and Mokulele Highway. Conceptual plans include a 1.4-acre commercial center and a 7-acre park with a neighborhood recreation center.

“We very much envision this to be basically for our local, working families,” A&B Vice President Grant Chun said. “This is local housing, targeted and designed for local families who are starting out in homeownership, and also those who might be looking to re-situate closer to their places of work in South Maui.”

An environmental impact statement for the project was accepted by the state Land Use Commission in May 2008, and in February 2009, the commission approved reclassification of the land from agriculture to urban.

The developer is seeking a community plan amendment and change in zoning from the Maui County Council. Council members visited the proposed project site Wednesday before the committee meeting, although no vote or action was taken by the panel.

A&B aims to have the first houses for sale on the market by 2018, Chun said. There is no legal way to exclude offshore investors from buying the homes designed for local, working families, but Chun said the units are not beachfront and were not designed to attract “the offshore market.”

Maui County requires the developer to offer 25 percent of the units as affordable housing, although Chun said the goal is “affordable and workable” prices for all residences. Units would likely range from $300,000 to $600,000 in present-day market conditions, he said.

“As a young parent in this community, it is hard to find housing, and it isn’t cheap,” said Wailuku resident Charmaine Yuen, who travels to Kihei for work. “We want to stay here, and we want our children to stay here . . . Maui can’t just stay the way it is, as much as we want it to. We need to grow, but we have to be smart about it. I feel like A&B has for a number of years made really wise decisions on growth in our community, taking our community into consideration.”

“This is an opportunity to get the community working again,” said Danny Collier, who works for Goodfellow Bros. but testified Wednesday as an individual. “This would (also) be the opportunity for these young guys to come up and get a piece of Maui. To me, this really looks good so far.”

About a dozen construction workers, plumbers, Realtors and other residents testified in support of the project.

But some community members were concerned about adding traffic to the already busy intersection along Piilani Highway, adding children to already overcrowded elementary school classrooms and adding stress to water sources, from which a number of other developing projects already tap into for drinking water.

“I have lots of concerns. I believe this is a good project, but I do have concerns with the project,” said Richard Brault, who testified he lives “within 50 feet” of the proposed project site on Kaiwahine Street. “There’s too much traffic already. We have an unbelievable amount of traffic coming by my house every day.”

Retired college professor Dick Mayer questioned whether Piilani Highway, which he called a “substandard” roadway, would be able to handle the increased traffic from not only the proposed housing development but also other planned projects in the area including the Kihei high school, Maui Research & Technology Park, the Piilani mall developments and even other projects further south like Makena and Wailea resorts that would increase the number of cars along the highway.

A&B’s conceptual plan proposes a widening of the intersection at Kaiwahine Street and Piilani Highway; adding a new double left-turn lane out of Kaiwahine heading south on Piilani; a new left-turn lane from Piilani onto Kaiwahine; and a new dedicated left-turn lane on Uwapo Road turning onto Piilani. The developer also would build a new eastbound left-turn lane on Kaiwahine entering into the project.

But council members were concerned that having only one entry-exit point would cause a “nightmare” during peak hours, tsunami warnings or fire evacuations.

“There’s still only one entry-exit to this whole project. That’s a concern for the Fire Department,” Council Member Riki Hokama said. “Even for Lanai, we’re doing a county housing project, and fire is adamant about having two entry-exits, and that project’s a lot smaller than this.”

Hokama also pointed out that there is no timeline for the intersection improvements, and no guarantee that they would be completed before the housing project.

Council Member Don Couch, who holds the council’s South Maui residency seat, said the thought of funneling traffic through the single exit in case of emergency is “scary.”

“If there’s a fire and we want everyone to evacuate from there, is there some sort of emergency exit plan? If there’s a mass exodus out of there, adding 600 or 900 vehicles on top of what’s already there is scary,” Couch said.

A&B officials said they expect an alternate entry-exit point to be developed in the future, most likely by another developer on land that is not currently owned by the company.

“Our charge is to provide the potential for future connectivity to those adjacent areas, which we do not own,” Chun said. “It becomes the county’s call on if and when those mauka routes are created.”

Chun said the 600-unit housing project is “the first of a series of initiatives in the area that would build out the general plan,” and it is likely that another developer would build an alternative roadway in the future.

Kihei resident and community activist Daniel Kanahele testified that if all the planned projects in the area were developed, “you’re going to need another elementary school.”

The developer pointed out that Kihei is the only district for which the state Department of Education has established an impact fee, which requires developers to provide funding for schools in the area.

“The contribution or impact fee for this project would be almost $3 million. That’s not insubstantial,” Chun said.

Also, A&B is “planning to provide the county’s system with new source” water by looking for possible well sites in the area, he said.

In response to criticism regarding A&B’s history of securing entitlements only to “sit on” projects for years before implementing them, Chun said his intention is “to move forward aggressively with this project,” although he was unwilling to provide a timeline because “so much is out of the builders’ control.”

Despite having some lingering concerns, most residents appeared Wednesday to be in support of the housing project.

“This will allow people who work in the resort properties in South Maui to live in Kihei and not have to go to Kahului or Wailuku for an affordable house and spend all the money they save buying that affordable property on gas to commute to work,” said Kihei resident and Realtor Steve Baker.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at