WAILUKU - Trendy retailer Target Corp. is looking to open a store on Maui, but it can't or won't if the County Council passes a proposal that limits the size of so-called "superstores," a company spokesman said Friday.
James Tucker, who testified during a regular council meeting in Council Chambers on behalf of the nation's fifth-largest department store, said that Target is considering a store here, but it hasn't found a suitable location yet.
"They want to build on Maui, but the bill would probably kill their plans," said County Council Member Gladys Baisa.
The superstore bill, which has been swirling around the County Council without gaining traction for a couple of years, would prohibit new retail buildings from being more than 15,000 square feet on Lanai, 75,000 square feet in Hana and 90,000 square feet anywhere else in the county.
Council members decided it would go back to the council Planning Committee, so members of the public and council members can gather more accurate information and debate the measure before making a decision.
In February, the Planning Committee unanimously decided to forward the bill to the entire council with the caveat that a public hearing would be held before the measure went to the full council for a vote.
But on Friday, the superstore size-limit bill was on the agenda, and no public hearing had been scheduled.
Testifiers complained that a Planning Department report to the council on the bill contained two serious errors:
* The report didn't say that Hana community plan advisers objected to any superstores in the rural town and wanted a 75,000-square-foot cap throughout Maui.
* An attorney for one of the big-box stores also testified that the Planning Department report misrepresented the Maui Planning Commission's stance because the commission did not make a recommendation to the council. The report inaccurately stated that commission members supported the bill, said council Vice Chairman Mike Molina.
On Friday, Council Members Mike Victorino and Joe Pontanilla requested public hearings on the proposed superstore limits to sort out such issues. Baisa, who was the Planning Committee chairwoman until new council Chairman Danny Mateo led an ouster of her this year, joined Pontanilla and Victorino in calling for the public hearing.
Instead, after about 25 people testified on the bill Friday - every one of them against it - new Planning Committee Chairman Sol Kaho'ohalahala introduced a measure to return the bill to his committee for further discussion among members and a public hearing. Council members unanimously supported Kaho'ohalahala's recommendation, although he said they had already had an "open process" on the bill to this point.
After Friday's council meeting, Kaho'ohalahala said he was in too much of a rush to address questions about the report mix-ups or why the public hearing was never scheduled. He also did not return a phone call by the Maui News seeking comment.
For years, critics of big-box retailers have argued that the franchises, which are almost always more than 100,000 square feet, unfairly drive out smaller competitors.
Wal-Mart has instituted an advertising campaign against the proposed superstore restrictions on Maui. Former council Chairman Riki Hokama wrote the bill as a way to protect locally owned businesses, especially mom-and-pop stores from national big-box franchises.
Some critics of Hokama's bill said it arrived more than a decade too late and should have preceded the construction of Wal-Mart, Kmart, Home Depot and other big-box retailers that started popping up in the 1990s.
Other cities and towns across America successfully have passed similar ordinances that limit a store's size, but do not go so far as to prohibit them completely. The courts have struck down all-out bans as unconstitutional.
Wal-Mart officials have said that they have no plans to expand their store in Kahului, but still want the freedom to do so in the future. Super Wal-Mart stores, which include grocery sections, average about 200,000 square feet, according to the chain's Web site.
This spring, Target opened its first two stores in Hawaii on Oahu and hired almost 1,000 employees. The Salt Lake Target is 216,512 square feet, and the Target store at Kapolei is 159,431 square feet. A store in Kona is slated to open in July, and plans are under way for a Target in Hilo.
Molina said a Target representative told him that a Maui store would employ about 300 people. Although he initially supported the superstore limits, Molina said the economic downturn has changed his mind, and he would welcome almost any retailer willing to bring new jobs here.
A Costco official said Friday that the roughly 130,000-square-foot store in Kahului is considering an expansion by 30,000 square feet and the construction of a gas station.
"These stores have a certain economy of scale they must consider in order to be successful," Baisa said. "If they are going to build, they need a store large enough to fit in all the amenities included in their business model, like an eyeglass store, pharmacy, fast-food restaurant or coffee shop."
In a recent newspaper ad, Wal-Mart said it's proud of its competitive wages, health care coverage and other employee benefits.
"So, when we hear the County Council is intending to vote on a bill that would unfairly limit where Maui residents can shop, it is disappointing to us," the ad stated. "It would ban new stores like Home Depot, Target, Wal-Mart and others."
Wal-Mart critics contend that the company has a history of shortchanging its employees and fighting union representation.
Victorino said he's been told that Wal-Mart, the country's largest retailer, is planning to expand in the next several years its Kahului location into a Super Wal-Mart. The existing Wal-Mart, the only one in Maui County, is 145,000 square feet, Victorino said. He said he was unsure about the proposed extent of its expansion.
Victorino asserted that rather than competition from the Wal-Marts, Lowes and Home Depots of Maui, most of the old family-run supermarkets closed because the owners' children didn't want to take over the stores.
"I think the communities should be able to judge for themselves what they do or don't want in their neighborhoods," said Victorino, who added that he didn't think it was the county's place to interfere with America's free-market system.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.
* This story includes a correction from the original published on Saturday, June 6, 2009. The article may have misled readers when it said that courts have struck down all-out bans on superstores as unconstitutional. Recent federal and state court decisions in at least California and Vermont have upheld the rights of municipalities to limit the size of stores built within their borders - which consequently has kept out the big-box or superstore business model, such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target. But in those cases, the cities never banned specific retailers by name, in order to avoid claims of discrimination. The Maui News apologizes for the error.