Viewpoint: Parking wanted in Wailuku, not park

There’s a famous old cartoon that’s captioned: “How about never? Is never good for you?”

That’s just the way the merchants and residents of Wailuku town feel about Iao Square, the little park slated for a portion of the parking lot next to the Iao Theater (The Maui News, Jan. 30).

The drawings of this county project show what planners call a “vest pocket” park tucked into the space next to the theater with a food vending stand, some trees, benches and other features.

What these drawings don’t show is that the parking will be removed. They also don’t show the uniformly hostile reaction the park has gotten from area residents and merchants.

Those who have been on Maui for a while recall that a few years back the same lovers of adorable planning ideas “improved” Market Street by eliminating scads of parking and making what remained much harder to use.

Many of us who live nearby thought once we were finally free of the agenda set forth by Wailuku Main Street Association and a new administration was in place, perhaps we could have a reasonable and friendly dialogue about the uses made of our neighborhood. So far that hasn’t happened.

Our neighborhood is in the Maui Redevelopment Zone and it comes under the jurisdiction of the Maui Redevelopment Agency, a board appointed by the mayor. Unfortunately, few of the people on the board over the years have lived or worked in this neighborhood.

Though the board has heard countless times that residents want the parking and not the park, the park lives and was still on the agenda at the MRA meeting held at 1 p.m. Jan. 25. A revision to the Wailuku parking in general was also on the agenda for that meeting.

I wasn’t there because like most people who run a business and work for a living, there could not possibly be a less convenient time to hold a public meeting than during business hours on a weekday.

I speak for myself and many of the neighbors when I say, “We don’t want Iao Square. We never asked for it. It was not put forth by the people who live and work here and we have repeatedly opposed it. Please let the record show that this is not a popular idea and we wish it would go away.”

It is difficult to be critical of the members of the MRA board, all of whom serve in a volunteer, unpaid capacity. But it is possible to observe they are not very good listeners, and they seem to give more weight to those drawings showing a cute little park than to our ardent desire to retain the remaining parking.

To the mayor, his staff and the legions of planners employed to keep thinking these ideas up, we say, “It’s good to take a fresh look at Wailuku but, in this particular case, we want to keep the parking.”

This is not to say residents and business owners would oppose paving the lot or, after it is paved, using it for public events like First Friday. But a park with permanent structures and no other use than park or food stands? Drop that idea forever. There are many other things Wailuku needs and wants more than this project.

While on the subject of cute little “improvements” paid for at the public expense: Have you ever noticed that darling little police substation right next door? How sad it is totally empty and seldom occupied by MPD. I’m told that officers won’t go in there at all because they want it to have bulletproof glass. Still, isn’t it nice that the county built it and the officers have reserved parking that they could use?

It might not be a bad idea to have an officer at that station from time to time – particularly at night – because just an empty building doesn’t watch the street or keep people safe.

So, “yes” to more police presence for Market Street, “yes” to keeping the parking that already exists – as it exists and where it exists – and “no” to Iao Square.

* Susan Halas runs a business in Wailuku town.