Planning panel advances Spencer subdivision

Developers ask to down-zone property from residential to agriculture

WAILUKU Despite concerns about water, wildfires and access to the Lahaina Pali Trail, the Maui Planning Commission gave a nod Tuesday to advance a 21-lot Maalaea agricultural subdivision.

The commission voted 5-2 twice to recommend proposed land-use changes for the Maalaea Agricultural Subdivision to the Maui County Council. The proposed development would be on 257 acres on the foothills of the West Maui Mountains on the mauka side of Honoapiilani Highway between Maalaea and the Kuihelani Highway junction.

Commission members Tina Gomes and Christian Tackett, twice voted against the recommendations.

MVI LLC has requested down-zoning of the property. It is seeking to change the community plan land-use designation from Project District 12 to agriculture. It has asked to change county zoning from open zone, road street future reserve and R-3 residential to agriculture.

The Spencer family-owned company has developed more than 1,000 affordable homes on Maui.

The request for down-zoning comes after the Spencer family abandoned its proposed 113-unit/lot Maalaea affordable housing development in 2016. That project was opposed by community groups and was impacted by an adverse court ruling.

The 113-unit design had been down-scaled from the project’s original plans for 1,100 units, most of which would have been affordable housing. The reduction was to appease opponents concerned about water, traffic and density issues.

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission attached five conditions with its favorable recommendation to the council. They included: prohibiting short-term rentals/transient accommodations; creating and maintaining firebreaks; allowing vehicular access to the Lahaina Pali Trail along with providing a separate lot for access or recording an easement for the access (because a portion of the trail is in the project area); working with the state and county on a multimodal transportation corridor along Honoapiilani Highway; and recommending developers look for an area to designate for open space in the project.

As the commission deliberated, Tackett said he wasn’t necessarily in favor of the project at this point, noting that he believed the development would be similar to gentlemen estates in Launiupoko.

He also noted how dry the area is and prone to wildfires. And, after hearing from the applicants that water wells on the property would be used to fight fires and that the storage tank for the water could be in harm’s way if there were a fire, Tackett said he was concerned the fire could take out the source of that water.

But commission member Lawrence Carnicelli said he personally likes the project. He contrasted it with its original plans for 1,000 units.

He said one can talk about fires happening in the area, but fires could happen anywhere.

And, as long as people know how windy the area can get and what the risks are, people should be allowed to live where they want, he added.

Carnicelli said he was in favor of imposing conditions on the project, including the prohibition on vacation rentals, establishing firebreaks and protecting the trail head. He was not in favor of adding an open space condition to the development.

During discussions, commission member P. Denise La Costa was concerned about adequate water supplies for the subdivision along with adequate water for fighting fires.

Engineer Tom Nance, who serves as a water resources consultant for the developers, said there would be three water wells on the site, two of which can provide what is needed for fire protection as well as normal uses. There also is a desalination component to produce drinking water.

Nance added that an 800,000-gallon water storage tank would be used. It could be filled up with well water and used for fire protection or agriculture irrigation.

Project consultant Vince Bagoyo said the project more than meets the standards for fire projection under the Maui County Code.

Bagoyo added that the developer is working with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources regarding maintaining access to the Lahaina Pali Trail. He said the developer could also consider other firebreaks, including one in the subdivision and noted that state-owned land mauka of the development already has some firebreaks.

Testifiers, even those against the project, agreed that the parcel should be down-zoned because it was never supposed to have be reclassified as a project district.

Lynn Britton, an officer of the Maalaea Village Association, testified that the organization supports the reclassification of the parcel to agriculture.

But the organization, which was formed last year after the demise of the Maalaea Community Association that opposed the original Spencer developments, also opposes the current project plan with concerns including the potential for wildfires.

Britton, who read from written association testimony submitted to the commission, said government officials designated the proposed project property outside of the Maui Island Plan urban-growth boundary because of its windy and fire-prone conditions.

The association asked the commission to hold off decision-making until community and government officials have a chance to possibly purchase all or a portion of the project lands.

She noted that the Kihei-Makena Community Plan update is coming up for review, and the project site remains in open space.

Community activist Dick Mayer said that if the land reclassification obtains approval, it should be done with conditions, including the requirement for firebreaks and ensuring there’s enough water to fight fires.

He noted that transportation corridors in the area should be preserved and that a water retention basin should be extended all the way along the highway along the southern end of the property.

Mayer also called for no future subdivision from the 21 lots.

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

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