Maui County Council members said last week that they expect once again to push back their deadline to pass the Maui Island Plan, this time until August 2012.
The move to revise the due date comes eight months after council members extended their deadline to approve the plan until the end of this year; 13 months after their previous deadline passed; four years after the plan was originally scheduled to be completed; and a decade after officials first started working to update the county's General Plan.
Council Member Gladys Baisa, who chairs the council's General Plan Committee, said the amount of detail in the plan has made it difficult to move the review along any faster, especially when council members' schedules have often not allowed them to meet on the issue more frequently than twice a month.
"I tell you, this has been a killer," she said. "There doesn't seem to be any faster way to deal with it. I've pushed as fast as I can. It's just the process."
Observers and advocates of the General Plan update expressed concern at how long that process was taking.
"The council should recognize that this is the most important thing they are doing for the long-term benefit of Maui," said Kula resident Dick Mayer, who served on the General Plan Advisory Committee. "They should be willing to hold additional meetings so they can complete this task expeditiously."
He and Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Irene Bowie said they feared the multiple delays were creating opportunities for landowners and developers to push forward projects that might not be allowed when the plan is passed.
"If we want an overall plan that makes sense, we need to get this going, because a lot of projects are looking to get on line and be approved," Bowie said.
After starting the discussion in 2001, the Maui County Council approved legislation in 2004 to establish the process for a General Plan update.
The legislation was praised as groundbreaking at the time, because it not only required the creation of "urban-growth boundaries" meant to limit the sprawl of future development, but also set tight deadlines for the General Plan Advisory Committee, Maui Planning Commission and County Council to review and pass the planning documents. Under the original timeline established in the law, the entire plan was supposed to be in place by 2008.
But that's not what happened.
The review got off to a slow start when Planning Department officials said in June 2006 that they had not finished drafting all the different documents that went into the plan. Four months later, the County Council approved changes to the law that would allow reviewers to start working immediately on the first part of the plan and take up the second part separately - essentially doubling the total review time for the document as a whole.
Even after the General Plan Advisory Committee completed its review of the Countywide Policy Plan in June 2007, it took another nine months before county Planning Department officials were able to deliver the second half of the document, the Maui Island Plan. Then, the citizen advisory panel was not able to complete its review on time, and received a three-month extension before finally passing the Maui Island Plan in February 2009.
After a relatively smooth six-month passage through the Maui Planning Commission, the Maui Island Plan stalled again in 2010, when County Council members announced in November that they did not expect to meet their one-year deadline and postponed further discussions until a new council took office in 2011. Council members later extended their deadline to complete the plan until the end of this calendar year.
And even though council members last year had worked through seven of the plan's 10 chapters, members of Baisa's General Plan Committee said in February that they would start reviewing the plan again from the beginning.
In an interview last week, Baisa defended the decision, noting that seven of the nine council members who serve on her committee hadn't participated in any previous review of the Maui Island Plan.
"There's no way we could have gotten the new members to feel comfortable approving material that they didn't know anything about," she said. "We had to go back to the beginning."
Council Vice Chairman Joe Pontanilla agreed, noting that he and Council Chairman Danny Mateo did not serve on the council's Planning Committee, which reviewed the Maui Island Plan in the 2009-10 council term.
"Now we have (the General Plan Committee) just to concentrate on the plan, and the new members have new ideas," he said.
He supported Baisa's decision to request an extension, noting that the committee had not yet started its review of the plan's most important and difficult chapters, which establish maps outlining future growth boundaries and set spending priorities for future infrastructure projects.
"I think that's where we're going to spend a lot of time," he said.
Baisa agreed, saying she hoped to take up the land-use maps early next year.
"That's going to be a long one, and all the ones that follow are also difficult," she said.
Baisa said she'd tried to speed up her committee's review by scheduling additional meetings but found that many council members were not able to attend because they had other commitments.
She said she hoped the review would go faster and more smoothly now that all nine council members were comfortable and familiar with the process.
Baisa, who herself has closely followed the General Plan update since it was before the citizen advisory panel, acknowledged that the review should have gone faster. But she also saw a possible "silver lining" in the delays, noting that Maui has seen significant changes since the process started in 2006.
"Maybe there is a blessing in disguise here, that it's given us a little chance to tweak things that have changed a lot," she said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.