Settlement reached in challenge to Honua‘ula EIS

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit launched four years ago by environmental and cultural groups that challenged the adequacy of the final environmental impact statement for the 670-acre Honua’ula project in South Maui.

The deal comes after more than three years of extensive negotiations, according to a joint statement issued Friday afternoon by the Sierra Club of Hawai’i, Maui Unite and developer Honua’ula Partners LLC. Maui County also is a party to the settlement agreement.

It calls for the protection of more than 160 acres containing ancient Hawaiian villages, boundary markers and site complexes as well as rare and endangered plants and animals.

The settlement includes protection of portions of the historic Kanaio-Kalama road, access rights for cultural practitioners and the public, a reduction of a proposed 18-hole golf course to a “golf amenity,” a deer fence to protect endangered plants and a conservation easement for the protected lands to be held by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. Eventually, preserved areas will be turned over to a nonprofit group.

The agreement includes a 116-foot-wide buffer along the project’s boundary with Maui Meadows, a 1-acre public park next to the buffer and height limits on structures near the subdivision.

In October 2012, the two environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court alleging that environmental studies were inadequate for the project planned for 1,400 single- and multi-family units, an 18-hole golf course, a 12-mile network of trails and a 40-acre preserve for native plants.

The lawsuit said that the project’s southern end includes more than 130 acres “considered to be one of the last remaining low-elevation native dryland forest habitats on Maui.”

Among other things, the plaintiffs contended that the Honua’ula developer failed to adequately address cultural and archaeological issues by relying on an incomplete archaeological inventory survey for the master-planned community.

During settlement negotiations, the developer agreed to do further archaeological work. As a result, hundreds of significant archaeological sites or features were confirmed to be on the property, according to the settlement announcement. These included ceremonial sites, stepping stone trails, living quarters and farming terraces.

Most of the sites will be preserved under the settlement agreement.

Revised project plans call for a mix of single- and multi-family units, commercial areas and a golf amenity, which may consist of a putting and short course with a series of holes that can be played as part of a nine-hole short course, according to a document filed with the state.

In 2008, the Maui County Council approved the development of single- and multi-family units, a range of commercial and other mixed uses and a golf course near the south end of Piilani Highway. The council placed a number of development conditions on the Honua’ula project for the protection of culturally and environmentally sensitive areas, including a native plant preservation area of not less than 18 acres and not more than 130 acres.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental impact statement contended that it did not address impacts of 250 affordable homes required to be built offsite at the proposed Kaonoulu light industrial subdivision on the mauka side of Piilani Highway in north Kihei. The settlement clears the way for the developer to amend the Wailea 670 project district to permit affordable housing either at the Kaonoulu or Honua’ula sites or a combination of both sites.

Certain parts of the agreement are contingent upon the developer obtaining certain approvals from the Maui Planning Commission, and on the developer proceeding with the project as originally approved.

Despite its former name of “Wailea 670,” the development is not within the Wailea resort’s planned urban development area. Honua’ula is between the Maui Meadows subdivision and the Makena resort.