Groups file suit over Makena resort development

Lawsuit questions the finding of ‘no significant impact’ by Maui Planning Commission

Environmental and cultural preservation groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to invalidate the Maui Planning Commission’s approval of the proposed $354.5 million, mixed-used Makena Resort project.

In March, the commission accepted ATC Makena Holdings LLC’s final environmental assessment and found that the project, which would contain 158 housing units and a resort-oriented commercial village, would have “no significant impact.”

Ho’oponopono O Makena, Maui Tomorrow Foundation and Sierra Club Maui Group filed the lawsuit in Maui’s Environmental Court, according to a Sierra Club news release Wednesday. The groups argue that the environmental assessment provided a limited review to the proposed 47-acre development, which is only a segment of the developer’s 1,800-acre, master-planned development.

The lawsuit also alleges that the environmental assessment failed to consider significant impacts that the new luxury development would have on public views, beach access, historical sites and groundwater resources.

“Plaintiffs in this lawsuit have raised concerns about significant environmental impacts with this developer for years,” said Albert Perez, executive director of Maui Tomorrow Foundation, in the news release. “Unfortunately, our concerns have not been adequately addressed. The entire Maui community reveres Makena’s beautiful beaches and precious natural resources, and the developer needs to acknowledge that the construction of an elite private enclave in this area will have significant environmental impacts, including the reduction of access to popular public beaches, loss of protected scenic views and impairment of the Makena environment.

“The Maui Planning Commission knows that a ‘Finding of No Significant Impact’ is only appropriate if there are no significant impacts; the commission should have required that a full environmental impact statement be prepared.”

The groups are asking Environmental Court Judge Joseph Cardoza to grant a temporary stay to stop the processing of the developer’s special management area application until the court can hold a hearing on their motion for a preliminary injunction against the planning commission. The developers are scheduled to appear before the commission for the permit on May 23.

Discovery Land Co. partner Ed Divita, whose company is managing the development, said Wednesday that he did not see the lawsuit, but was “sad” to see the groups’ attempt to “obstruct a process that set a new standard for open community communication.”

“The outcome of that community-centered process is a project that is environmentally sustainable, exceeds the engineering standards and raises the bar for best management practices, contributes tremendous community benefits and proposes only one-fourth of the residential density that is permitted per the zoning ordinance,” Divita said via email. “Slowing down or obstructing this project will have a measurable impact on construction jobs and permanent jobs in Maui.”

Divita said developers have worked closely with the county, state and community for the past three years to ensure the project had no adverse impacts. He said the project received strong community support at its Urban Design Review Board, Cultural Resource Commission and environmental assessment hearings.

“That included long-time residents from Makena, whose families have lived there for multiple generations,” Divita said.

Plans for the 47-acre project, which is makai of Makena Alanui Road and to the Wailea side of the now closed Makena Beach & Golf Resort, were prepared with suggestions from environmental groups such as the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council and Sierra Club, Divita said. Plans for rain gardens, green streets and stormwater retention systems will provide drainage performance nearly double the county requirement.

Divita added that existing view corridors along Makena Alanui Road were preserved and enhanced and new view corridors were added from the road toward the ocean. Beach access is not impacted and 20 parking stalls will be added near Makena Landing along with a more safe pedestrian access, he said.

The lawsuit identified concerns over the historic Makena-Ulupalakua Road, which the group said is entitled to preservation under the 1892 Highways Act. Divita, however, said the road is private and closed in 1983.

“The segmented portion of broken asphalt road does not lead anywhere and has no transportation purpose,” he said.

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.

While the project approved by the planning commission is only 47 acres, much of the ATC Makena’s 1,800 acres are zoned for development.

Perez said he fears that the planning commission’s approval paves the way for future luxury development mauka of the project. He said he brought up the issue to Discovery Land Co. officials after seeing the company’s website advertising lots and ranches for sale mauka of the project and “all the way up to the lower slopes of Kula.”

The complaint also refers to Maui Planning Commissioner Keaka Robinson, who stated that he visited Discovery’s offices and had been told that the development up mauka was the “next phase” of development.

“They even changed their website after we raised that as an issue,” Perez said. “That’s a big deal.”

Divita has said that the development is a stand-alone project and denied that the company has any specific plans for the rest of the land.

Ashford De Lima, president of Ho’oponopono O Makena, said his organization was formed to preserve and protect cultural and historic sites in Makena. The Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and fisherman said the land for the proposed resort includes a recorded burial site and he has observed significant environmental impacts of neighboring development in the area.

The lawsuit points to ATC Makena plans to divert water from Central Maui’s Iao aquifer for its development. The diversion is subject to a complaint by Central Maui water users and is under investigation by the state Commission on Water Resource Management.

“I think we need to have an independent cultural review of the proposed site and the surrounding area,” De Lima said in the news release.

ATC Makena purchased the resort for $95 million in 2010. It is a consortium of Ares Management, Trinity Investments and Stanford Carr Development.

The property was in foreclosure in 2009 after Maui developer Everett Dowling and Morgan Stanley Real Estate defaulted on a $192.5 million loan. The hotel was originally built by Japan-based developers Seibu Hawaii and opened in 1986 as the Maui Prince Hotel.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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