Resources to buy park not endless — White

WAILUKU – Council Member Mike White wants Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration to negotiate a deal to only buy a portion of the 186 acres in Launiupoko that landowners are offering for $13 million.

White made the request to purchase around 70 acres in a resolution during his committee’s meeting Wednesday as council members were still mulling over appraisals that valued the 186 acres anywhere from the asking price of $13 million to the lowest appraised value of $6.6 million.

White said he put the option on the table as a way to “bridge the gap” between the asking price and what the new appraisals have shown. He said that by buying only a portion of the 186 acres the county would allow landowner Makila Land Co. to develop the other parcels and still make a profit.

In turn, the county would still have money to develop the park land envisioned for the area.

“We want to have the resources to develop a park. . . . But our resources aren’t endless,” White told the committee.

White deferred the resolution Wednesday. Some council members said that they wanted to vote on the current bill to purchase the parcel for $13 million before weighing other options. Both the county and a landowner consultant said they would wait to see what happens on the current $13 million deal before speculating on new negotiations.

White’s resolution comes as the County Council is facing a Dec. 31 deadline for it to make a decision on the $13 million negotiated offer for a coastline parkway in West Maui, often referred to the Pali-to-Puamana parkway.

On Friday, the full council may be able to pull the current $13 million land purchase bill out of White’s committee to be heard on the council floor. To do that, the council needs five votes. The move was unsuccessful during the last council meeting.

But even if the council were successful at pulling the matter out of committee Friday, it would need six votes to waive council rules to bypass the usual committee referral and report requirement.

If the council members approve the waiver, then the bill to purchase the 186 acres could be put to a vote. Only a majority is needed to approve the bill.

Although the council needs to vote twice to approve the bill to purchase the property, putting a second required vote into the new year and beyond the seller’s deadline.

A special meeting could be called within this year.

Makila Land Co. planning consultant Rory Frampton said after the meeting that it is possible that the landowners could extend the deadline if the land deal were approved Friday by the full council.

The squabble over the appraisal values stemmed from White’s assessment that the administration’s original appraisal process was “significantly flawed.” The appraisal placed high values on undevelopable lands, White said. Since then, council members approved a reappraisal that valued the land at $9.4 million. A new appraisal valued the land at $6.6 million.

White has said that if the administration had been more forthcoming with information about the appraisal and if the committee had approved new appraisals when he first requested them, the council would not be up against the short deadline. White and some other council members believe that the deadline could be extended and speculated that the deadline was a “bluff” by the sellers.

Department of Finance Director Danny Agsalog, the county’s chief negotiator in the land deal, said that he could not say whether the county would renegotiate the deal as requested in White’s resolution.

“For me to comment on whether we (will) negotiate is unfair on the current deal on the table,” he said.

White’s resolution specifically called for the director of finance to negotiate for the 70 acres.

After the meeting, Frampton said landowners “are waiting to see what happens to the offer on the table,” and the landowners have not taken a look yet at White’s latest resolution.

During public testimony, Peter Martin, one of the property owners, said that although he didn’t want the county to buy the lands, he “can’t legally stop the sale” now.

He urged the county not to buy the land.

“We will do a better job than you will (in maintaining the land) . . . I’ll be a better steward,” he said, holding back emotions.

In addition to his resolution, White verbally suggested two other options for the parcel.

One is to have the landowners donate a portion of the land to a land trust, in which the landowners could receive a tax break, with the county then purchasing the other leftover portion of the sellable land.

A second option, which some council members took a liking to, was possibly having a reduced price for the county’s purchase of the 186 acres while allowing the landowners a chance to have the council initiate a large lot rural zoning on lands mauka of the ones being purchased. The current zoning is agriculture.

The council also would initiate a community plan amendment for a rural designation for those mauka lands. The community plan now designates those lands for agricultural use.

White said this council-initiated process would waive costs for environmental studies as well as save time for the landowners.

Those who were for and those against the $13 million purchase stood their ground even after White’s resolutions and proposals were unveiled. Those in favor and those opposed to the administration-negotiated purchase both claimed their constituents supported them.

Council Member Mike Victorino stressed a need for a vote on the $13 million proposal, saying the council is not the negotiator in any deals and the committee has done its “due diligence” in investigating the appraisal matter.

“I’m getting kind of tired of figuring out, another way, another way, another way to renegotiate,” he said. “We do not negotiate.”

“Let’s say yes or no to the original proposal,” he said.

Council Member Don Couch also argued in favor of taking a vote. He said he does not want to lose the chance for the county to purchase the property by missing the deadline to do so.

“We need to put our own reputations on the line and take the vote,” Couch said.

Council Member Riki Hokama said he already made his decision on the $13 million offer.

“I don’t have a problem looking at options,” he said of purchasing the lands another way. “I don’t have a problem looking at eminent domain.”

Hokama said he has heard from constituents who believe the council is doing the right thing in examining the appraisal process and looking out for the county’s bottom line.

“There are priority programs of our residents that they want their money to go to (instead of the purchase),” Hokama said.

White said that while “we all want this deal to happen,” the appraised values for the property remained far apart.

“It’s important for us to get creative,” he said. “We owe the community a review from this kind of prospective.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at