WAILUKU - With a leadership shakeup at Maui Land & Pineapple, layoffs and revenue losses, County Council members and community activists are pressing Mayor Charmaine Tavares to move forward with a ML&P proposal to preserve picturesque Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay.
Before it gets yanked off the table.
In August, the grass-roots organizations Save Honolua Coalition and Honolua Advisory Council joined to endorse a ML&P "Compromise for Conservation" plan, which proposed to preserve thousands of acres in and around Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay in exchange for new land-use allowances - including 630 short-term rentals - in ML&P's Kapalua Mauka project district.
A hand-painted sign at a scenic overlook above Honolua Bay captures the spirit of the natural environment. The bay is included in a preservation plan proposed by Maui Land &
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Council Member Jo Anne Johnson, who holds the West Maui residency seat, said Friday that she met with ML&P executives and was told that the county has a Dec. 31 deadline to adequately respond to ML&P's board of directors.
Tavares' spokeswoman Mahina Martin said it is her understanding that if the Dec. 31 deadline is not met, ML&P will revert to its original proposal to develop Lipoa Point as an 18-hole golf course with a 40-lot luxury home subdivision. Those plans ignited a firestorm when they were introduced last year, and the company withdrew them to begin consultations with the Save Honolua groups.
ML&P spokeswoman Teri Freitas Gorman on Friday declined to say whether the company still supports the conservation plan. But she said of the deadline, "Don't read anything into it."
Freitas Gorman said that on Monday ML&P will complete written testimony for a council committee stating the company's current position.
At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the council's Policy Committee will take up a resolution offered by Johnson urging Tavares to enter into serious negotiations to purchase the land at Lipoa Point and preserve the Honolua Bay for park, open space and conservation.
Recently, the two Honolua groups organized community meetings and an e-mail campaign to council members in order to persuade them to get serious talks started.
Company officials announced this summer that they need the County Council to approve a number of land use, development rights and ordinance changes as well as appraisals for the conservation compromise to occur, preferably by the end of the year.
So far, none of those proposals have come before any County Council committees. Tamara Paltin, vice president of the Save Honolua Coalition, blamed an apparent misunderstanding between the council and Mayor's Office as to which should start the process.
Martin said the administration has been facilitating the process all along and was waiting for the grass-roots groups to collect public input before starting negotiations with the company. Getting the council's support was also key, she said, adding that Tavares will testify on Tuesday.
"With (ML&P CEO and President) David Cole leaving and new leadership coming in, that could mean a change in resolve from the company," said Council Member Michael Victorino, who tried to introduce a similar resolution last month. "And our window of opportunity may be closing very soon. We've got the money. We've got the deal. Let's grab it and go."
The County Council has set aside $1 million in the budget to help purchase Lipoa Point. Johnson said she would be willing to consider increasing the county's financial contribution to help close the deal, if that's what it takes. But she would like to see extending protection of the shoreline from Honolua to Kahakuloa as part of the program.
"I don't want anything to compromise all the work that's been done by the community to get this far," Johnson said. "The mayor has been extremely supportive, but I didn't know we were having any difficulties until I saw Victorino's resolution in October.
"I believe we and the administration are trying to do whatever we can to satisfy their (ML&P's) requirements; and as long as we keep the dialogue going we will meet the deadline in a satisfactory way. We don't want to see them get frustrated and withdraw their plans."
With ML&P losing millions of dollars and laying off hundreds of employees, Johnson said she was also taking into consideration doing what she can to protect remaining ML&P jobs.
In 2006, the county approved project district zoning for Kapalua Mauka expansion of the Kapalua Resort. But the project district zoning barred short-term rentals and second housing units.
To give up its plans for developing the Honolua lands, ML&P is asking to expand on the uses allowed in Kapalua Mauka, including:
Allow 630 residential units to be used as short-term vacation rentals. No new units will be added to the Kapalua Mauka project district.
Zoning to build a 60-room "boutique" hotel, comparable to the Hotel Hana Maui.
1,200 county park credits currently valued at $32.46 million or 14.4 acres of land.
In exchange, the Honolua-Lipoa plan would:
Place almost 8 miles of coastline, from Honolua Bay to Nakalele Point in public trusts or in protected state conservation districts
Create an independently controlled Lipoa Land Trust to protect and manage 255 acres around Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay.
Establish a public and privately funded $6 million to $8 million endowment for the Lipoa trust
Designate 3,000 acres as conservation easement to add to ML&P's current partnership with the state for the Puu Kukui watershed preserve
Petition to designate 212 acres of fields mauka of Lipoa Point as "important agricultural land," to be protected for agricultural use under state law.
Paltin said as far as she knows the company's proposal hasn't changed. But she said she believes that ML&P may have set the deadline to restart the process or set up a compromise that is more advantageous to the company given its weak financial outlook.
"That would be a shame to make so much progress and then start over," Paltin said. "But to me, it's not the end of the world. We're not going anywhere. They're not going anywhere. We're in it for the long haul."
Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.