Maui Bus project advances with initial OK of land exchange

Passenger hub to move from center to corner lot across from Sears store

A county-state land exchange paving the way for Maui County to build a new bus hub near Sears in Kahului passed on first reading Thursday.

The Maui County Council voted 5-3, with Council Member Bob Carroll excused, to pass a bill to authorize Mayor Alan Arakawa to enter into an agreement with the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. and the state Department of Accounting and General Services for a lease exchange.

The county will exchange its old Wailuku Post Office site for the state’s half-acre property at the corner of Kaahumanu Avenue and Kane Street for the Maui Bus transit hub, moving it from its current site on the Wailuku side of the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. The old post office site at the corner of Wells and High streets in Wailuku is less than half an acre and used for county employee parking.

Council Members Elle Cochran, Kelly King and Alika Atay opposed the measure.

In previous meetings, members who opposed the agreement were concerned about letting go of the Wailuku county property and wanted to see if the deal could go through but without trading the old post office site.

County officials said the state is considering the area for possible state office expansion.

The old Wailuku Post Office was demolished in 2013 and was one of the early flashpoints between Mayor Alan Arakawa and the County Council. The council had approved the rehabilitation of the building and questioned whether the mayor overstepped his authority by leveling the structure.

As in previous council committee meetings, Council Member Stacy Crivello expressed urgency because the lease agreement with Queen Ka’ahumanu Center is set to expire on Jan. 31, 2020.

A current memorandum of understanding calls for the county to obtain a 65-year lease at $1 a year for the Kahului property. In exchange, the county would provide the state Department of Accounting and General Services the same lease terms for the county’s Wailuku property.

In other matters, council members on first reading voted unanimously to approve a bill to preserve and protect sensitive historic, cultural and archaeological sites, and unmarked human burial sites by clarifying the grading and grubbing permit process.

The council added the word “immediately” to the bill as a way to direct when enforcement should be conducted on possible violations because Atay was concerned about when action by the Public Works director could occur.

The council also addressed developer concerns over the word “shall” in the bill because some worried that permits would be easily revoked if the Public Works director issued a notification of a possible violation or warning.

But Council Member Don Guzman, the author of the bill, said permits may not be revoked so quickly because, normally, the initial steps by the Public Works director or the department would be to place a phone call to find out more information about a possible violation.

But if the wording were more lenient, such as the “director may” suspend or revoke permits, these matters could be easily overlooked by the director, Guzman said.

Land Use Committee Chairman Carroll, taking the direction of Guzman, re-committed to committee a second bill dealing with resource extraction and processing.

On Tuesday, Guzman said he would send the bill back to committee after hearing testimony over concerns about the measure from developers and Native Hawaiians.

Native Hawaiians said the threshold to seek permits for resource extraction were too lenient. They said, for example, that thousands of truckloads of sand would need to be removed before such permits were sought.

In other council action, members voted to approve a resolution to transmit to the Maui Planning Commission a proposed bill to grant a change in zoning for a nearly 7-acre parcel in Kihei to facilitate the development of an affordable housing project. The zoning change proposed is from open space to residential for the parcel mauka of South Kihei Road and near the Aston Maui Hill.

The land is owned by Ferreira Family Partners, which has had the land for 25 to 30 years. It was approached by Aina Lani Pacific LLC partner Howard Kihune Jr. His company would develop around 28 to 30 housing units that would be 100 percent affordable, according to a committee report.

While the matter would still be vetted through the Maui Planning Commission and later again at the council, community members were opposed to the bill, saying they needed more information about the project and were concerned about zoning changes.

King called for a public hearing. But the issue failed after Cochran withdrew her support after initially supporting the hearing.

Cochran said it is a “tough one” for her, but she believed there was a process for the change in zoning should go through. 

She did not want to delay the matter.

But King said she and members of the community wanted more information, and that the developers did not come forward until after committee action was taken.

She said the community has concerns over the “up-zoning,” and they wonder what else could be developed in the area without seeing definite plans.

Crivello said that, if zoning were changed, it would conform to the community plan, which designates the area for single-family dwellings. She added that the current open zone designation assigned to the parcel is old and outdated. 

She reiterated that the land use matters would have more public meetings.

Crivello said that the council members all say affordable housing is needed and this would be a way to achieve that.

“Delay, delay, delay,” Crivello said of not moving the issue forward. “The homebuyers get tacked on the costs” if there are setbacks, she said.

“How much do we want to provide for our residents?” she asked.

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

COMMENTS