Council gives OK  to Hana affordable housing project

A 100-percent affordable housing project in Hana survived a last-minute complaint from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on Friday as the Maui County Council gave first reading approval to a land use change and final approval to a fast-track resolution for the project.

OHA questioned determinations made by the state Historic Preservation Division regarding agricultural archaeological findings on the project site.

GTH Land Co. came to the council seeking a state land use district boundary amendment from agricultural to rural for the 7.2 acres to be used for the housing project. Developers also sought approval of a resolution to proceed under the state’s 201-H fast-track process, which allows modifications and exemptions from certain requirements. The council had until Nov. 19 to act on the fast-track application or it would have been approved as submitted.

The council gave final approval to the fast-track resolution and first reading approval of the boundary amendment, which requires a second vote. The votes for both measures were 8-0 with Council Member Don Guzman excused.

As proposed, the project, located at 4356 Hana Highway between Ulumalu Road and Hohani Place, would provide 25 affordable single-family lots.

Planning consultant Jordan Hart for GTH Land Co. explained that a letter between OHA and SHPD was discovered just prior to Friday’s council meeting. OHA’s letter took issue with determinations SHPD made on several former agricultural sites on the project site.

The sites in question contain walls, an agricultural terrace, a habitat and agricultural complex, said Hart. They were analyzed and documented, and SHPD determined that development could occur on those sites, he said.

Hart asked that the project requests be approved because there were many opportunities for comment including the environmental assessment process. The final environmental assessment came out in June.

Gabriel Hoeffken, whose family is proposing the development and is the landowner, said while he understands the importance of cultural preservation he said they have followed all the guidelines regarding archaeological studies.

He said if there were changes made to the project at this late stage he did not know how it would impact his “shoestring budget” for the project.

“It’s two state agencies that have a disagreement. We don’t have any control over that,” Hoeffken said.

But Council Members Elle Cochran and Alika Atay wanted to find a way to protect the sites and to get more input from the Native Hawaiian community.

Atay said he understood the need for affordable housing, especially in Hana, “but we get kuleana as gatekeepers.” Atay asked if there was any way to reconfigure the project to avoid the sites.

While Cochran pointed out that the OHA letter was dated Oct. 17 and was not sure why it only surfaced recently, she said the letter needed to be dealt with to protect the people and the culture in the area.

Cochran proposed amendments to have the developer speak to the Aha Moku Council in Hana, made up of Hana residents, to get their input on the project and to have the developer take direction from the group.

The amendment failed.

Another amendment to have the developers consult with the Aha Moku Council in Hana was passed. It does not commit the developer to any action advised by the councils, which help advise the chairperson of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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