Panel advances property purchase for civic complex

Property price tag is double what owners paid

A Maui County Council committee recommended Tuesday that the full council approve the county’s acquisition of parcels along W. Vineyard Street in Wailuku for $850,000, or twice as much as the current landowners paid for them.

The public purchase of the property would help pave the way for the Wailuku civic complex: a proposed parking, commercial and community hub that would take the place of the Wailuku municipal parking lot.

Calling the property acquisition a “keystone” for the project, Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Riki Hokama acknowledged concerns about the purchase price, which also is more than $200,000 above the county’s appraisal.

He told committee members he has the “same heartburn too” and wished it could be different. But he said the property owner, Armstrong Homes Ltd., has been asking for “seven figures for the longest time.”

The vacant, 13,853-square-foot parcel sits at 2091 W. Vineyard St., at the corner of Church and Vineyard streets. The parcel was appraised for $615,000, said Finance Director Mark Walker.

The property will be used for road widening and to install storm drains, sidewalks, an electrical transformer and streetscape improvements, said Erin Wade, small-town and redevelopment planner with the Department of Planning, outside the meeting. A portion of the civic building and some on-site loading also is planned for the site.

The committee voted 6-2 to recommend the full council adopt the resolution to purchase the property. Council Member Kelly King was excused.

Council Members Alika Atay and Elle Cochran opposed the measure.

Atay asked why the appraisal price of $615,000 was not sufficient.

“I’m sure it was offered” by the county, Hokama said, but he added that his understanding was that the owners wouldn’t even consider that amount.

Atay then asked how much the county would pay if it acquired the property through eminent domain.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Ueoka said he couldn’t predict what a judge would do, but the price could be higher or lower than what was being offered. Ueoka added that the Department of Finance was comfortable with the current offering.

Cochran expressed support for upgrading the area’s infrastructure. But overall, she said she was “not totally in favor of the entire thing,” noting the large price tag for the complex.

Recently, council members halved Mayor Alan Arakawa’s 2019 budget request of $81.2 million for the civic center project, reducing it to $40 million.

The complex would replace the Wailuku municipal parking lot with a multi-story parking structure and a three-story building for retail stores, county offices and special events.

In another matter, the Budget Committee deferred action on a resolution to authorize the transfer of about 33 acres in Launiupoko from the county to the state Department of Transportation for the Lahaina bypass, now officially referred to as Route 3000.

Most council members told Ed Sniffen, deputy director of the Transportation Department for highways, that the county should get something in return for the land.

Hokama suggested several options, incuding matching the value of the land for another project that the state could construct; reimbursing the county’s open space fund from which the lands were purchased; providing an exchange for a state-owned parcel; and a direct payment for the acquired land.

During discussion, Sniffen said giving the county some land around the Lahaina Harbor could be an option because the state has land that was going to be used for the now defunct Hawaii Superferry.

Cochran was open to an exchange at the harbor and noted other West Maui state land that could be usable, some of it in the vicinity of the bypass.

With more of the bypass open to traffic, businesses in Lahaina town are seeing fewer customers, she said.

Cochran suggested the state erect signs along the bypass reminding people that they can turn into Lahaina town.

Council Member Mike White suggested that the word “historic” be included in the Lahaina town sign, noting that when signs for historic Makawao town were put up, they increased business for the merchants.

In response to a question from Cochran about why the transfer of lands from the county to the state for the bypass had taken so long, Sniffen explained that maps showing rights of way and project footprints were not completed until February.

Another delay came about from the special management area permit process last year, he said. Through that review, part of the highway project was moved further away from the shoreline, and that changed its footprint.

Sniffen said the changes improved the project overall.

Overall, Sniffen said the bypass’s new southern portion, open for about four weeks, has been handling traffic well. He acknowledged that on opening day, “it was a nightmare.”

But he said he’s hearing reports that it takes motorists only around eight minutes to drive from Olowalu to Keawe Street.

He said the county has reported that Maui Bus travel times have been shortened five to six minutes on a one-hour Lahaina route.

In other matters, the committee recommended approval of a bill to assist with a $355,000 shortfall in golf fund revenue for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The expected shortfall stems from the upcoming closure of the back nine holes of the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course for renovations in June and the recent closure of the Fatt Chicks Burgers restaurant at the course in March, Budget Director Sandy Baz said.

Most of the shortfall can be made up from the department’s salary and operational savings and with $110,000 of carry-over savings from the general fund.

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

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