When most politicians and county officials didn't respond, some Central Maui residents found help from lawyers willing to fight city hall over a mountain of dirt that developers wanted to put houses on.
First Maui-grown attorney Lance Collins, then veteran Honolulu attorney David Gierlach stepped up to represent residents in lawsuits that eventually led to a court order that the county abide by its residential building height limits.
In a December 2008 decision, 2nd Circuit Judge Joel August prohibited Maui County from issuing building permits that conflict with the residential height limit of 30 feet from the natural grade in two Maui Lani subdivisions, including the Fairways at Maui Lani.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Attorney Lance Collins represented neighbors of a developer that used truckloads of dirt to raise property levels to the heights of rooftops. Collins helped win a jury award for his clients but has yet to be paid in the case.
It was a victory for residents, including many living along Palama Drive in Kahului, adjoining the Fairways project. There, truckloads of dirt were brought in to raise elevations to nearly reach some rooftop levels, creating dust, noise and vibrations that disrupted neighbors.
Collins got involved about four years ago after residents contacted him as the development was beginning.
"It was outrageous," said Collins, who reviewed documents gathered by then-Council Member Michelle Anderson. "I agreed to meet with them immediately."
After Collins helped a first group of residents who sued, Gierlach represented additional residents in a second lawsuit that resulted in the judge's order.
"It just seemed like a travesty to know that older folks who spent their whole lives saving up to live out their retirement years all of a sudden got surrounded by a mountain," said Gierlach, who has built a reputation as a trial lawyer for 20 years. "It clearly violated the height restriction of the county. A judge agreed with us.
That's why there's been no building going on there so far. So there's a mountain of dirt with no purpose.
"These were wonderful folks, just kind people who gave to the community their whole lives and really just wanted to have a nice peaceful retirement. Instead, some developers who wanted to make a lot of money turned their back yards into a hellhole."
Collins, who has focused on public interest cases in his five years as a lawyer, also assisted in the second lawsuit.
"I told the Palama Drive neighborhood I intend to continue working for that neighborhood until justice is done," Collins said.
Because the attorneys agreed to handle the case on a contingency, they have yet to be paid despite a $232,700 jury award for damages to some residents following a seven-week trial.
"It's incredible what they did," said Palama Drive resident Annette Heu, who with her husband was among plaintiffs in the first lawsuit. "I'm so proud of them for representing us the way they did in truth and honesty.
"We just are residents who needed help, and they came forward. They did it for us, not for money - that's rare. It's just amazing, and we're very grateful."