Supporters of sports clash with residents

KAHULUI – To save their homes from bright lights, noisy ball games, congested traffic and decreasing property values, Maui Lani residents proposed Tuesday that the state consider developing its Central Maui Regional Sports Complex in another location, but state officials said that would delay the project another seven to 10 years.

Hundreds of community members, including Maui Lani residents, sports coaches and young athletes, packed into the cafeteria at Pomaikai Elementary School on Tuesday night to weigh sports teams’ need for more fields against the residents’ need for peace and quiet. The two-hour meeting was hosted by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

The state plans to build a 65-acre sports complex adjacent to Maui Lani subdivisions. The complex will include one high school baseball field, four softball fields, four youth baseball fields, three soccer fields, 302 parking stalls, restrooms and concession areas, according to a conceptual design presented Tuesday.

The project will be built out in phases, and more parking stalls will be added as funding becomes available to a total of more than 700 spaces, a DLNR engineer said.

About $18.5 million in state funds has already been appropriated for the project, and planning, design and permit approvals have all been completed, officials said.

Construction of the park is slated to begin this summer and finish by fall 2015.

“This is the project that many of us in the community have been working on for a really long time,” said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who was chosen last year to lead the state’s Sports Development Initiative.

But Maui Lani residents and homeowners said having the sports complex so close to their homes would subject them to excessive lights from the ballfields; loud noise from the games and from late night parties; gridlock traffic from adding so many cars to a residential area; and decreased property values from being in such close proximity to the sports complex.

The homeowners suggested that the proposed sports complex be moved 2 miles west to the 209-acre site in Waikapu that the county purchased in September. That site already is slated to become a regional park.

“Take this sports complex and put it on there, you could fit three times as many parks in that location (Waikapu) and it’s only 2 miles away,” said Mark Hoenig, who lives in the Na Hoku subdivision at Maui Lani. “There are no adjacent communities, so you won’t have push back from homeowners . . . Everybody gets what they want.”

He and other residents advocated for a smaller regional park to serve the Maui Lani community instead of a large sports complex.

But Tsutsui said “it’s just not possible” to move the current project to a new location without having to undergo the lengthy, costly planning and permitting process.

“For several years, we’ve worked on several environmental assessments, there had to be an archaeological study, an unexploded ordnance study, soil testing. All those things are required before we can even start moving on a park . . .

“The reality is if we were to move it, my estimation is it would be seven to 10 years before the park would be built,” Tsutsui said.

He added that even after this park is built, there would still be a need for more fields to meet the rising demand on Maui. A 2007 facilities assessment by the county identified the need for an additional 542 acres of park space to support the growing population in the Kahului and Wailuku areas.

Project officials said “mitigating measures” had been taken in response to concerns they’ve received from neighboring residents. For example, 112 trees will be planted along the Maui Lani property line where light may have an impact. Additionally, the newest industry-standard lighting fixtures, which comply with the county’s “dark sky” ordinance will be employed, and the lighting hours adhered to, officials said.

State officials said they conducted an acoustic study that found that the noise level inside a Maui Lani home will be “equivalent to a refrigerator (except) when occasional cheering occurs,” though homeowners expressed skepticism at the claim.

Athletics coaches and players said waiting another decade for the fields would be “a terrible injustice” for the keiki who haven’t had enough playing fields.

“We really, really need these fields. We needed these fields 10 years ago. The kids in this room are the ones who are going to benefit from these fields, and to tell them it’s going to be another seven to 10 years, I don’t think that’s fair to them or fair to us,” girls softball coach Mike Vaughn said. “Any delay in this would be a terrible injustice to all the kids here who play sports.”

Jordyn Vierra, who plays with Na Pua Ko softball club, said the team is only able to practice three times a week because it shares the fields with other clubs.

“We’re going to be representing Maui on Oahu and Sacramento this summer. Without these fields, we won’t be able to represent Maui to our full potential,” the young athlete said. “We want the fields right now. We don’t need it tomorrow or in 10 years when we’re off to college.”

Others in favor of the project pointed out that sports help young people keep fit, stay out of trouble and even get into college, for those who are able to get athletic scholarships.

Central Maui sports groups that currently receive athletic field permits include Maui Girls Softball Association, Little League, American Youth Soccer Organization, Hawaii Youth Soccer Association, and adult softball and baseball leagues.

“There are 650 kids that play Little League ages 4 through 12,” said Wade Kitagawa, president of Central East Maui Little League Baseball. “We cannot have the older kids play because we don’t have enough fields . . .

“I’m sorry if you guys (Maui Lani residents) oppose this situation, but . . . you know, maybe this is not the place for you guys to live,” Kitagawa said, prompting bursts of outrage from some attendees and applause from others.

A few who spoke at the meeting Tuesday expressed disappointment that the sports complex project had pitted homeowners against sports enthusiasts.

“This is not us against them. We are one community,” said Joey Vierra, who introduced himself as a coach, teacher and parent. “We cannot alienate people because of what we need. We’re a family. This is Hawaii. We should work together.”

State officials said at the end of the meeting that they would gather commentary and concerns from the meeting and “take it under consideration” and make whatever changes are possible.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at