LUC members hear testimony backing ‘agrihood’ project

Waikapu Country Town

Developer Mike Atherton shows state Land Use Commission members a feature on a map of his proposed Waikapu Country Town project Wednesday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Plans call for building 1,000 single-family and 433 multifamily units. Also, as many as 146 ohana units would be allowed. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Developer Mike Atherton shows state Land Use Commission members a feature on a map of his proposed Waikapu Country Town project Wednesday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Plans call for building 1,000 single-family and 433 multifamily units. Also, as many as 146 ohana units would be allowed. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — Land Use Commission members heard several hours of testimony Wednesday as part of hearings on proposed state district boundary amendments for the nearly 500-acre Waikapu Country Town project.

The panel will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. today in the Alexa Higashi Meeting Room at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

The applicant’s four remaining witnesses will be followed by testimony from the county Department of Planning and the state Office of Planning. Then, the commission may take action after hearing summations.

Developer Mike Atherton is seeking a state district boundary amendment from agricultural to rural for 150 acres and from agricultural to urban for 335 acres. Planned for construction in two five-year phases through 2026, the development is what Atherton envisions as an “agrihood” — a neighborhood with both housing and agriculture.

It would be located north and south of the Maui Tropical Plantation, which is part of 2,000 acres straddling Honoapiilani Highway that Atherton purchased from Wailuku Agribusiness nearly a decade ago.

A map details the proposed layout of the Waikapu Country Town project. Honoapiilani Highway divides the project’s northern and southern areas.

A map details the proposed layout of the Waikapu Country Town project. Honoapiilani Highway divides the project’s northern and southern areas.

Nearly all of the nine public testifiers praised the project that several said evolved its development plans in response to community and environmentalists’ concerns.

Farmer Robert Pahia, manager of Hoaloha Farms in Central Maui, said that the development’s commitment to support agriculture would help the state move toward “food security,” meaning less dependence on imported produce.

More land is needed for small family farms, he said, and “this development sets a precedent.”

Stan Franco of Faith Action for Community Equity said that residents are badly in need of affordable housing. He backed the project’s proposal to build a range of homes for different income levels, making for a diverse community.

Support for the project even came from those who typically line up against development projects, like the Maui Tomorrow Foundation.

Developer Mike Atherton appears Wednesday before the state Land Use Commission at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. He is seeking state district boundary amendments for nearly 500 acres to develop his Waikapu Country Town project north and south of the Maui Tropical Plantation.

Developer Mike Atherton appears Wednesday before the state Land Use Commission at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. He is seeking state district boundary amendments for nearly 500 acres to develop his Waikapu Country Town project north and south of the Maui Tropical Plantation.

Foundation Executive Director Albert Perez praised the developer’s commitment to work with the community and put 800 acres into an agricultural preserve. (Another 277 acres would be dedicated to diversified agriculture.)

“The developer has modified the project in response to community concerns over the years,” Perez said.

As an example, he cited Atherton’s agreement to limit stream use to leave more natural flows.

Also, after there was community opposition to initial plans to have rural lots ascend the slopes above the Maui Tropical Plantation, “the design changed, and the rural/ag lots were limited to a more compact area much further downslope,” Perez said.

And, he said, the project’s environmental impact statement is “far better” than those of other developers.

“Rather than the usual self-serving recitation of the benefits of the project, it actually discloses impacts and does a fair job of evaluating secondary and cumulative impacts of other developments in the surrounding area,” Perez said.

Atherton told commissioners that he has adopted a good-neighbor approach to development since 1979, when he stepped away from his family’s farming business in Stockton, Calif., and started buying lots and building homes for sale. Since then, he’s built more than 3,000 single-family and multifamily homes, he said.

“With almost 40 years of experience in development and construction, I learned that one of the most important pieces of a successful project is to speak with and accommodate if possible the neighbors, the community groups and the administrative bodies that regulate land,” he testified.

The project’s master plan “isn’t my plan and isn’t our consultants’ plan,” said Atherton, manager of Waikapu Properties, MTP Land Partners and Waiale 905 Partners. “Rather . . . the master plan is the community’s plan of what they wanted for the Waikapu area.”

The project plans call for 1,000 single-family and 433 multifamily units, and includes offices, shops, parks, open spaces, a school and hundreds of acres of agricultural land. These units don’t include 146 ohana units that would be allowed.

Potable and irrigation water would come from a dual water system tapping on-site wells. And, wastewater would be treated in a private, sustainable system using micro-organisms that grow on plant roots, coupled with fine bubble aeration, to break down contaminants in wastewater and produce water suitable for agricultural irrigation, said Steven Parabicoli, the chief technical officer with Mana Water LLC.

Kula resident Dick Mayer reiterated concerns about the traffic impacts not only of the Waikapu Country Town project but also those of other nearby projects — Puunani, Kehalani, Maui Lani and the Waiale housing project — after they’ve been built out.

Currently, Honoapiilani Highway has single lanes in either direction in Waikapu, and a short, narrow section of East Waiko Road would not be able to handle the additional traffic from those developments, he said.

Traffic consultant Netai Basu of Fehr & Peers acknowledged that traffic conditions at regional intersections will be affected by Central Maui developments, even before completion of the first phase of the Waikapu Country Town project.

That first phase would be the “Village Center,” mauka of Honoapiilani Highway, with 731 residences, an elementary school, a park and 170,000 square feet of commercial areas, including restaurants, retail and offices, industrial space and government facilities, he said.

Basu estimated that the first phase would generate 700 vehicle trips in morning peak traffic and 1,000 trips in the afternoon.

The project’s second phase would include 848 homes and 6 acres of parks and open space, Basu said. The main project access would be via Honoapiilani Highway by the southern extension of the Waiale Road bypass, he said.

After development of the project’s second phase, the total number of vehicle trips generated would be 1,200 in the morning and 1,500 in the afternoon rush hours, he said.

After full build-out, around the year 2026, six of the 14 regional intersections are projected to operate at “undesirable” levels of traffic congestion, he said.

Fehr & Peers developed traffic mitigation strategies to identify specific improvements at those six intersections “to fully mitigate the identified project-related and cumulative impacts,” he said. Those include roadway widening, establishing through lanes and right- and left-turn lanes at approaches to intersections and installing traffic signals.

The project proposes to fully fund traffic mitigation measures to return flow to pre-project levels at Honoapiilani’s intersections with Kuikahi Drive and Waiko Road, Basu said.

He noted there have been plans to build a southward extension of Waiale Road from its existing terminus at Waiko Road to a new intersection with Honoapiilani Highway about 1 mile south of the highway’s intersection with Waiko Road.

He said he has analyzed the impact of the Waikapu Country Town-generated traffic if the proposed Waiale bypass were not built. If that were to happen, another three regional intersections would be significantly impacted by more traffic, he said.

Basu said that the project’s plans support “multi-modal transportation,” or the use of nonmotor vehicle access to goods and services in a mixed-use project. “In other words, walking and bicycling is encouraged by the placement of pathways and the location of goods and services in proximity to residential uses,” he said.

If the Land Use Commission approves the proposed land-use amendments, Atherton can seek a change of zoning and a community plan amendment from Maui County. That would be heard first by the Maui Planning Commission, which would make recommendations for final action by the Maui County Council.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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