State pension system still considering golf course development

As questions circled around plans for the Kaanapali Golf Course, the executive director of the state Employees’ Retirement System, which owns the golf course, said it’s too early to tell how much the project will cost and whether it will prove beneficial for the agency and the community.

Maui residents took a visit by Thomas Williams on Monday as an opportunity to grill him on the project’s development plans, which they said has sparked widespread opposition from the community. The ERS acquired the 305-acre property and golf courses through foreclosure from Amfac Hawaii in 2003.

“We don’t have this sense that we will develop this project hell or high water,” Williams said in response to questions. “It has to be reasonable, and it has to provide a return to our beneficiaries, to our members. And if it doesn’t do that, then we can’t pursue it.”

Plans call for turning the two 18-hole championship golf courses into a 27-hole championship course and a nine-hole, par-3 course, according to an environmental impact statement preparation notice released in May. The proposal also included a 136-room boutique hotel; 80,000 square feet of added retail space; 56 oceanfront condominiums and 100 to 200 multifamily ocean-view residences. The total project area would encompass 164 acres.

Ted Lennon, senior vice president of project manager Lowe Enterprises Investors, said in December that the goal was also to construct 50 affordable, workforce housing units.

Based on presentations and interviews with Lowe Enterprises, The Maui News and Lahaina News published separate articles in December that said the ERS planned to invest $354 million in the project.

However, Williams said Monday that the plans were still developing and that the ERS didn’t have a figure for the project cost at this point.

“We haven’t finished any development plans at all, and the ERS has not invested any of its assets in the redevelopment of Kaanapali, apart from investments in some consulting services and the efforts to create an environmental impact statement and the necessary permitting,” he said.

Residents were concerned about the impacts to the community and asked whether the ERS had any alternatives.

“There’s been multiple standing-room-only events where all you hear is opposition,” Kaanapali resident Gary Weiss said. “Unfortunately, I think you guys live in a little vacuum over there, where we as a Neighbor Island make this commute every day and depend on this west side, single highway.”

Williams said the ERS hasn’t identified any alternatives yet. However, he said the agency was willing to continue meeting with local residents. Selling the property is “always an option, but the ERS has elected not to do that at this time because they’ve wanted to be the steward of this property, recognizing its importance to this community,” he added.

“There’s some issues that exist prior to the golf course or any redevelopment,” Williams said. “My sense is that we won’t know those impacts until we have the conversations with you. And that’s what we’re offering, is that conversation through that process. We may very well end up at a place that I think you have arrived at — that this is not good for us.”

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


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