WAILUKU - Alan Arakawa, who as mayor encouraged Sterling Kim to pursue his Hale Mua affordable housing project, on Monday encouraged Mayor Charmaine Tavares to sign the final construction plan approval so Kim can build the project on more than 200 acres in Waiehu.
Entertainer Danny Kaleikini sang and offered a prayer, and 100 people wearing Kokua Hale Mua shirts - from unemployed construction workers and idle contractors to parents wishing their children could purchase a home and former Council Member Joe Tanaka - held signs and waved at motorists Monday morning outside the Kalana O Maui Building.
Kim said his application has been on the mayor's desk for nine months and further delay would be equivalent to denial: "This is our last resort before we are financially prevented from going forward."
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Pukalani resident Allan Yamada carries a “Support Hale Mua” sign while standing next to Haiku resident Keoki Brown during a rally in support of the housing project Monday morning at the Kalana O Maui Building in Wailuku. Yamada and Brown are both members of the Operating Engineers labor union.
Late Monday afternoon, Tavares said the developer and the former mayor were making untrue statements.
Tavares said the project has stalled because of adequate-water requirements tied to Hale Mua's approvals from the state Land Use Commission and an environmental assessment in the project's fast-track approval process.
In 2005, the Maui County Council approved Hale Mua, a 466-unit project planned to have at least 51 percent affordable homes. The project was modified, in part in response to requests from Arakawa and in part in response to the community in Waihee, and approved by the Land Use Commission in January 2007.
At that time, Tavares, who had supported the project as a council member and was by then mayor, told the commission she didn't see any reason there would be delays from the county.
Kim acknowledged that the hang-up concerns water.
Before speaking to a crowd of Hale Mua supporters Monday, Arakawa noted that he was departing from his usual practice and was going to read from a prepared text, because he wanted to be "absolutely sure" he was understood. The key part of his five-page statement was:
"Let me make it absolutely clear. Sterling was assured of his water allocation from our administration. This was also confirmed by Mayor Tavares who sent him a letter guaranteeing him his water allocation. The water department also reported to the County Council that they were reserving water for this project."
Responding later to Arakawa and Kim's comments in writing, Tavares said Arakawa's contention that water was committed to Hale Mua during his four years in office "has no basis in fact."
"The county records have been searched and no confirmation of his claim has been found and no proof has been offered by Mr. Arakawa," the mayor said. "Alan Arakawa states that the project approval is sitting on my desk 'just a signature away from final approval.' This is absolutely not true. The application is currently in the hands of Mr. Kim's engineer. Mr. Arakawa also states that I sent a letter to Sterling Kim, 'guaranteeing him his water allocation.' This too is false. No such letter exists.
"Mr. Arakawa states that 'when elected officials make commitments, we should honor those commitments.' I agree. And once Sterling Kim meets the requirements related to his development - including providing water as required by the state Land Use Commission - we will be in a position to move forward. I encourage Mr. Arakawa to learn the facts before misleading the public and creating confusion in our community."
The way the state fast-track housing approval process is written, prices for affordable homes are locked in, no matter what the housing market does. (The state's fast-track affordable housing law is designed to save developers time and money, bypassing certain state and county land-use approvals and other requirements.) But having home prices frozen can put a developer in a bind. Jesse Spencer, who built the last large mixed affordable-market project on the island (Waikapu Gardens), has said he "left $100 million on the table" because prices skyrocketed during the years it took him to finish it.
Kim has been on a roller coaster with Hale Mua. When he was locked in, the affordable prices were to start at under $200,000. Even when Maui prices skyrocketed (and building costs, too), he maintained he could still do the project.
Now housing prices are dropping back somewhat, but meanwhile his costs are mounting. In early 2007, Kim told the Land Use Commission that delays had already cost him a million dollars. Now he said that has risen to several million.
Arakawa noted that Kim originally brought forward a plan for 100 percent affordable housing. "However, the County Council had been asking developers to create mixed communities, so we asked him to create a mixed community with 50 percent affordable units with prices starting under $200,000, and he agreed."
In a written statement, Kim said: "It is the contention of the administration that no approval can be granted without an approved viable long-term water source."
This is a requirement of the Show Me the Water ordinance, but Kim contends that his project is exempt because it was submitted before that ordinance was passed.
Hale Mua at that time got the standard response that the Department of Water Supply has used for years: Meters would be issued based on availability at the time of application, but the developer is warned that water may not be available.
As of Monday, new meters were being issued in Central Maui, except in some areas where the delivery system is inadequate. But there is no moratorium or suspension now based on inadequate sources.
In an Aug. 13 letter to Kim's lawyer, Department of Water Supply Director Jeff Eng said Phase 1 (185 units) is not covered by the Show Me the Water ordinance, but that later stages will be.
The letter, also signed by Tavares, says the whole project must participate in providing an adequate source of water.
On Monday, Tavares said the county Department of Water Supply has been consistent, including during the Arakawa administration, in stating that water for the Hale Mua project may not be available until new sources were developed.
Tavares said: "In a letter dated April 29, 2005, Mr. (Kim's) representative wrote to the Department of Water Supply acknowledging that no water meter reservations would be issued until new sources are brought on line and that water for the project may be unavailable until that time."
The mayor also said: "Due to inaction on water issues and source development during the Arakawa years, the county's water system was left in a water deficit. Misleading the public into thinking that Hale Mua's water needs are a simple fix is disingenuous. If it were that simple, why didn't Mr. Arakawa complete and fulfill his own commitment while in office?"
Kim said he has applied to the state Commission on Water Resource Management for a water use permit, with the county water department as a co-applicant.
In any event, Kim said: "We anticipate the water department will be successful in their mission of the development of new water resources."
Tavares said that jobs that would come from development projects such as Hale Mua are important.
"However, selling lots to eager homeowners without water would be a shameful hoax," she said. "New homeowners deserve to have the opportunity to own a home without wondering if water and wastewater services would be available. This would be the case if Mr. Arakawa's and Mr. Kim's demand of final approval is granted.
"My administration wants the project to succeed - for the benefit of the families who will move into the homes," Tavares said. "I support affordable housing, but it has to be affordable housing that people can actually live in."
* Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.