WAILUKU - Construction of the Maui Lani Center has been ongoing for months, with workers driving heavy earth-moving machines behind a black dust fence to ready the ground for construction of Safeway and other stores.
But the project across from Baldwin High School on Kaahumanu Avenue remains under a legal cloud, with a challenge pending in 2nd Circuit Court and unresolved concerns about Native Hawaiian burials.
Wailuku resident Clare Apana maintains that developers of the 13-acre project have not taken adequate steps to safeguard burials in sand dunes on the property.
Ongoing construction of the Maui Lani Center is sandwiched between the Baldwin High School campus and Kaahumanu Avenue (background) and a Maui Lani subdivision (foreground) last week. While ground-clearing work has been ongoing for months, the shopping center project faces a legal challenge arising from concerns about the treatment of Native Hawaiian burials.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Lloyd Sueda, the representative of center developer HRT Ltd., said the matter of burials is being addressed by the Maui/Lanai Islands Burial Council. He declined to discuss the issue further last week because of Apana's pending litigation.
Attorney Lance Collins, who represents Apana, said the issue has gone before the burial council, but construction hasn't stopped because findings of human burials on the property have been classified as "inadvertent" by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Historic Preservation.
Collins said an archaeologist has been hired to monitor burials discovered by workers.
"That has happened a number of times," he said. "I think they're finding burial sites every couple of weeks. . . . They're very likely to find even more."
Collins said it's no surprise that human bones are being found; it's common knowledge that Hawaiians buried their dead in sand dunes.
Apana has been working with the burial council and is moving ahead with her complaint in 2nd Circuit Court, Collins said. There, she is challenging a Maui Planning Commission finding of "no significant environmental impact" for the project.
Collins said Apana contends that the significance of burials on the property and other cultural impacts were inadequately addressed, and a full environmental impact statement should have been done.
Last year, an official with the State Historic Preservation Division on Maui said treatment plans for previously known and identified or inadvertent discoveries of burials had been approved for the shopping center project.
A civil lawsuit is pending before 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo, Collins said, but first there are plans to take the matter through mediation.
That process had not begun as of last week, although Collins said he has talked with the landowner's attorney about the matter.
If mediation doesn't work, then Apana would seek a civil trial, Collins said.
Nearly a year ago, shopping center developer HRT announced that its anchor tenant would be Safeway, the largest grocery retailer in North America.
Plans call for building a 60,000-square-foot supermarket, which developers had hoped to open this winter.
While the original project design envisioned a center with a gross leasable area of 128,000 square feet, those plans were scaled back to a development with 105,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space and 550 parking stalls.
The Safeway store at the Maui Lani Center would be the supermarket chain's fourth on the Valley Isle. Other stores are located in Kahului, Lahaina and Kihei.
HRT Ltd. is a subsidiary of the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Trust.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.