Administration fought for best price on land

Maui County County Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White is trying to discredit an important project and questioning whether the administration has been prudent while negotiating the purchase of 186 acres of shoreline property in West Maui, from the pali to Puamana.

If the county buys this area, we will ensure that it is protected from development for generations to come. Residents and visitors can continue to camp, fish, dive and surf and enjoy this pristine coastline as they have for decades.

For many residents, this area is priceless. But White doesn’t think it is worth the $13 million price tag, and questions how the administration arrived at that figure. In his mind, our negotiations were flawed.

I believe the public needs to know the details surrounding this land purchase so it can decide whether White is being prudent or just blocking this open space acquisition for political reasons.

This initiative began when I returned to office in 2011 and discovered that Makila Land Co., the property owner of the pali-to-Puamana area, was still in the process of subdividing the property.

Seeing that the property would soon be available for development, I approached the owners and asked if they would be willing to sell the property to the county. There was resistance from some of the partners but a majority of them agreed to enter into negotiations and to delay their permit application.

The $13 million price tag is the result of a spirited, and oftentimes heated, negotiation process between the county and landowners.

On Oct. 3, 2012, we received an appraisal of $8.7 million, which we offered to the seller. However, in a letter from the landowner dated Oct. 24, officials formally disagreed with this appraised value and expressed concerns. The county forwarded this letter to the appraiser on Nov. 7, and the parcels were reappraised at $13 million.

The certified appraiser, Ted Yamamura, explained the increased appraised value of $8.7 million to $13 million as follows: “The initial appraisal identified Lots 8 and 12 as ‘non-developable’ greenway lots, based on the Seller’s subdivision map. This resulted in Lots 8 and 12 being appraised as open space/park parcels. Subsequently, we were corrected by the sellers that the Agriculture Zoning for these lots allow for farm dwellings, in addition to other permitted uses. Therefore, the appraisal was re-evaluated and valued Lots 8 and 12 pursuant to uses permitted under the Ag Zoning of the Maui County Code. This resulted in a final appraisal value of $13 million.”

On Nov. 13, 2012, the county offered to purchase the parcels for $13 million.

White fails to tell the public and his fellow council members of the long and arduous negotiation process where we fought for the best price possible. This includes arguing for and getting deductions which ultimately saved the county about $5.5 million.

After all these negotiations, we transmitted an ordinance to purchase the section of the pali-to-Puamana area to the council, where it has sat in the Budget and Finance Committee since January.

That is until recently, when White decided that the administration mishandled the negotiations and felt yet another appraisal was needed.

I’m still wondering what White hopes to accomplish even if he gets a new appraisal. Makila Land Co. has already told council members that it was “unwilling to extend the deadline” and that “an additional appraisal will not make a difference in negotiations.”

Do we really want private mansions to replace some of the most scenic vistas in West Maui? Some years ago, the county was offered the opportunity to buy about 880 acres of land in Olowalu for $8 million. The county didn’t take advantage of that deal and now just one of those lots is listed for sale for more than $5 million.

But this time we can save our coastline from development. As mayor, I urge Maui residents to call the council members and ask them to stop playing a game of chicken with the landowners, a term White used to describe his own actions.

This is no game. Once this opportunity to preserve open space is gone, it will be gone forever.

* Alan Arakawa is the mayor of Maui County.