Second look at medical plaza needed

The proposed Maui Medical Plaza at Kanaha was awarded a special management area permit in August 2011, at a time when the property was more than two years delinquent on its property taxes. The developer declared personal bankruptcy shortly after SMA approval and liens were filed against the development by a long list of contractors not paid for their services. Now, three years after the SMA approval, the developer, owing more than $120,000 in back taxes, has been given a special payment plan by Maui County.

The county Department of Finance recently accepted a down payment of $30,297, and a second payment of $9,089 was due June 20 (The Maui News, June 12). In requesting 2013-14 records from the Department of Finance, I find only one other property owing a similar amount ($126,000) that was given a payment plan. Scheduled payments for that property are to be paid in full within six months. Maui Medical Plaza, with very public financial problems, was given a more lenient payment plan to be completed in a year.

The Wailuku-Kahului Community Plan states that “drainage channels should not be used for building sites but rather for public open space,” adding that we should “protect shoreline wetland resources and flood plain areas as valuable natural systems and open space resources.” The plan explicitly states: “Future development actions should emphasize flood prevention and protection of the natural landscape” and that “higher building forms up to six stories should be sited in the central portion of commercial blocks.”

In commenting on the project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the state wildlife preserve at Kanaha was essential for the preservation of Hawaii’s endemic waterbirds.

The county Planning Department also had concerns that the project’s construction activities would result in “irreparable damages to the immediate site and potentially the entire Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.”

Hawaii’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife in a 2009 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated that it “strongly feels that the wetland status of this site should be valued and that no filling and construction be allowed.” It encouraged the corps “to protect this wetland habitat from development, runoff, erosion, and fill.”

Somehow all of this was ignored by the Maui Planning Commission and the SMA permit was granted. Only the developer’s dire financial situation and state water quality permits still being reviewed have prevented building at the site.

Why has the county given this sweet deal to the developer of a highly controversial project with a shaky financial history? Mayor Alan Arakawa was a consultant for the project in between his terms of office. Once back in office, he sent a recommendation for the project, on mayoral letterhead, to the commission just as the SMA permit was being considered. Could a similar recommendation have influenced the Department of Finance?

With the developer’s goal of breaking ground within the next three months, simple math shows that not even half the debt from the tax lien will be paid by the time digging begins.

The SMA permit is set to expire at the end of August, and a request for extension of the permit has now been filed with the Planning Department. Please join Maui Tomorrow and others who care deeply for the state of our disappearing wetlands and write the Maui Planning Commission to ask that a public hearing take place in order to take a second look at this project and the many changes that have occurred since the permit was granted in 2011.

* Irene Bowie is the executive director of Maui Tomorrow Foundation.