Panel votes to defer action on Makena project

Commission asks developers to return with more information, details on 10-year plan

Ed Divita, a partner with Discovery Land Co., begins a presentation on the 47-acre Makena Resort at a Maui Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Ed Divita, a partner with Discovery Land Co., begins a presentation on the 47-acre Makena Resort at a Maui Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

WAILUKU — With dozens of testifiers calling for a more rigorous study on the proposed Makena Resort, the Maui Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to defer the final environmental assessment for the 47-acre project.

Commissioners asked developers ATC Makena Holdings and Discovery Land Co. to return with more information on view planes, public parking and ocean access, affordable housing, details on a 10-year plan and other suggestions.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the developer worked really hard with the community. Commendable, in fact,” commissioner Larry Hudson said. “Once this thing is done, it can’t be undone. . . . I don’t see any reason this project should move any faster than is reasonable and prudent.”

The Makena Resort, a $354.5 million mixed-use project, would be built makai of Makena Alanui Road, with Honoiki Street running east to west through the site, according to the final environmental assessment. It will be built just Wailea-side of the Makena Beach & Golf Resort, which closed last summer.

Spread across three parcels, the 158-unit project would include 88 multifamily units, 20 single-family cottages, 26 single-family custom lots, 10 transient vacation rentals and a resort-oriented commercial village of 14 condos and 27,300 square feet of commercial space.

Commissioner Keaka Robinson explains concerns over the resort becoming an exclusive club that will close off more land to the general public. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Commissioner Keaka Robinson explains concerns over the resort becoming an exclusive club that will close off more land to the general public. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

The project is expected to be finished and occupied by 2023.

The 70 people who testified Tuesday were split on the project. Supporters lauded the jobs it would provide, the environmentally friendly design and the developers’ efforts to plug community suggestions into their plans.

“It is inevitable that Makena, just like the entire face of Maui, will experience changes,” testifier Jovelyn Bonilla said. “But I’m optimistic in the plans for this particular area, not only because it is low density or provides new methods for bioretention, but more so because of the collaborative and respectful process by which the plan was derived.”

But others said that the project would affect cultural and recreational activities, damage the reef and have little benefit to local residents. They added that the resort was only a small segment of the large-scale development that Discovery has planned for the area.

“We’re not against development. We’re against hasty development,” said Adriane Raff-Corwin, coordinator for the Sierra Club Maui group. “If we only look at these 47 acres, maybe we’ll find there’s not a huge impact. . . . But 20 years from now, when we have all those little projects put in there, what kind of impact are we going to be seeing?”

Representatives for Discovery Land Co. and consultants for the project said they’ve been working to address community concerns.

Over the past year, the developers have held more than 50 meetings with individuals and groups, including community associations, environmental groups, council members and families with deep ancestral roots in Makena, said Leahi Hall of Discovery Land Co.

Architects worked to alter buildings, from stark-white contemporary designs to more subtle, traditional styles that would blend better with the surroundings. They set buildings farther back from the road, often beyond the county requirements of 20 feet, explained Don Vita of Vita Planning & Landscape Architecture.

In addition, the project design follows a low-impact development approach, which focuses on slowing the flow of runoff and removing pollutants from stormwater, said Amanda Cording, Pacific director of Eco Solutions. The project also aims to be low-density; while current zoning allows for 12 units an acre, the project is proposing 3.35 units an acre.

“We’ve worked hard, listened closely and learned a lot since the last time we were here,” said Ed Divita, a partner with Arizona-based Discovery Land Co.

Testifiers said Discovery Land Co. had gone “above and beyond” to meet community requests. But others argued that even if the company was going about it the right way, there were still too many questions. Many called for a more extensive and time-consuming environmental impact statement to be done, particularly if Discovery Land Co. planned to develop beyond the 47-acre Makena Resort.

Residents said that on its website, Discovery advertised future luxury development on 1,800 acres. But Divita said Makena Resort is a “stand-alone” project and that Discovery “does not have any specific plans” for the rest of its land.

An environmental impact statement is more rigorous and time-consuming than an environmental assessment. While the EA’s purpose is just to determine if there would be significant impact on the environment, the EIS must go into detail on each of the possible impacts, county Planning Director Will Spence said.

Commissioners were split over whether an EIS would be necessary. They thought the developers had worked hard and were setting “a new standard” for environmentally and community-friendly development. However, like community members, they also thought the five-volume EA left some questions unanswered.

“I’m not against the project, but I’m not sure,” commissioner Keaka Robinson said. “I’m concerned about the exclusivity of the project. . . . We’re giving away a part of Maui and we’re afraid we’re never going to see it again.”

Robinson said the community has seen many resorts put up walls and cut off residents from portions of land, “and it’s coming to a place where Makena  . . . is just not the same.”

“It’s not your fault that it’s not the same,” Robinson told developers. “But you guys can help.”

Divita said the project would not have walls around its perimeters to keep views clear and give the resort an open feel. He added that the village center would be open to the public and have paths to the beach.

Discovery Land left with a laundry list of commission requests to consider, including:

• Placing taller buildings farther downhill to preserve views.

• Expanding public parking as close as possible to the ocean.

• Studying impacts on the sustainability of the Iao aquifer.

• Installing sensors to measure water quality.

• Providing “more substance on affordable housing.”

The project will require about 40 affordable units, but Divita said developers would have to do a feasibility study before deciding where to build the units. For now, he said, they’re moving ahead with the resort first because they already have credits from workforce housing they’ve built in the past.

ATC Makena Holdings, which is a consortium of Ares Management, Trinity Investments and Stanford Carr Development, must still obtain a special management area use permit if the final EA is approved.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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