KIHEI - Maui community groups say they're determined to halt development of two planned mega-mall shopping complexes off of Piilani Highway, even to the point of seeking relief in court.
"I'd like to think it will not have to go to court, but that is a possibility," said Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation. "If this development can ignore the county's community plan, then something like this can happen anywhere."
Maui Tomorrow, South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth and Kihei resident Daniel Kanahele last month filed appeals with state and county agencies challenging the project being built on land zoned for light industrial use.
Two planned mega-mall shopping complexes in Kihei were the focus of Tuesday night’s meeting of the Kihei Community Association. More than 100 people attended the meeting, where residents mostly spoke out in strong opposition to the projects that are under way along Piilani Highway. The association hosted a panel that included (from left): Michael Howden, past chairman of the county’s Board of Water Supply; traffic engineer Victoria Huffman; Mark Hyde, president of South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth; Mike Foley, former Maui County planning director; and Kihei Community Association President Jon Miller.
The Maui News / NANEA KALANI photo
The groups contend that an industrial park approved in the late 1990s under former landowner Kaonoulu Ranch is a far cry from the retail projects being developed by Irvine, Calif.-based Eclipse Development Group.
The company plans to build Maui Outlets, a 300,000-square-foot shopping center on a 30-acre site, and Piilani Promenade, a 400,000-square-foot retail complex on 68 acres, mauka of the Piilani Highway-Kaonoulu Street intersection.
Combined, the centers, expected to open in early 2014, would be larger than the 570,000-square-foot Queen Ka'ahumanu Center in Kahului.
Charlie Jencks, a liaison for the projects, said that the approved zoning for the property allows for mixed uses, including commercial.
"The light industrial zoning does allow - like many other properties on Maui, including the Maui Marketplace and Lahaina Gateway Center - commercial development," Jencks told The Maui News. "This is not a new concept."
Dust fences are being erected on the property, and heavy machinery was on-site this week. Jencks said no building permits have been pulled yet.
"The only improvements that have been permitted are the off-site infrastructure like a water tank above the project, roads and other civil improvements," he said. "A lot of positive things will happen with this project that will benefit the community."
The community groups have petitioned the state Land Use Commission to review and enforce about 20 conditions imposed on the parcel's former landowner when the commission granted a zoning change from agricultural to urban in the 1990s.
"One condition is that the property owner, and subsequent owners, submit annual progress reports," said Mark Hyde, president of South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth. "I've read every single annual report on file, and every single one says that the developer is building according to what's been represented," he said, referring to the industrial park previously proposed for the site. "That's why we've had to bring this action."
The groups also have petitioned the Maui County Board of Variance and Appeals to "recognize the project's nonconformity with the Kihei/-Makena Community Plan," according to Hyde.
Jencks, a former director of the county's Department of Public Works and Waste Management, contends the county's community plans act as guidelines and don't carry the force of law.
"The community plans describe 'desirable' uses within light industrial districts," he said. "When you get down to the project level, then you defer to the zoning, where permitted uses are defined. The plan is a policy document that indicates generally where a community wants to go, and it changes over time."
The existing Kihei/Makena Community Plan went into effect in 1998. The County Council is working toward a December deadline to complete work on an updated Maui Island Plan, which guides growth and development for Maui. That plan will then help guide work on updated community plans.
"My opinion is that the project that is now under way does not conform to the Kihei/Makena Community Plan," said Mike Foley, former planning director for the county and a Maui Tomorrow board member.
Hyde and Foley were panelists at a Kihei Community Association meeting Tuesday night, along with traffic engineer Victoria Huffman and Michael Howden, former chairman of the county Board of Water Supply.
The meeting dedicated to discussing the Piilani Promenade and Maui Outlets drew a standing-room-only crowd at the Kihei Charter School campus. Many voiced their opposition to the malls, citing concerns about clogging traffic along Piilani Highway and the lack of opportunity for community input.
The panelists encouraged residents to write letters to government officials.
"I think the mayor and (South Maui County Council Member) Don Couch probably assume that the majority of people in Kihei support this project," Foley said, eliciting boos and catcalls from the crowd. "If that's not the case, then you should let them know. . . . I think a groundswell of concern from people in Kihei to Don Couch and the mayor should have some impact, and if it doesn't, I'm afraid our next step is to go to court."
Kihei Community Association President Jon Miller said Couch had a family emergency and was unable to attend the meeting. He also said executives with Eclipse declined to participate in the meeting.
South Maui state legislators Rep. George Fontaine and Sen. Roz Baker attended the meeting, and both have pledged to write letters to the governor and Land Use Commission.
"It's apparent that a number of the conditions the LUC imposed when approving the switch to urban are not being enforced, and never have been," Fontaine said after the meeting. "It just seems unbelievable that you can go from a light industrial park to a large mall or shopping center without having any community input. It's disappointing that we have a process in place where there appears to be loopholes allowing a project of this size to go forward and simply telling the community that it's a done deal."
Kihei Community Association's Miller said that the group will not directly join efforts to intervene in the projects.
"We try to be an entity that represents the entire community, and we just try to ensure that information is out there," Miller said. "There's so much complexity to the zoning that we have - at the state level, from the county and in the community plans - so it's nearly impossible for the average community member to understand the effects."
Initial hearings on the groups' petitions are scheduled for July before the Board of Variance and Appeals, and in August before the Land Use Commission, Bowie said.
"This project, if it goes forward, is going to forever change the character of South Maui irretrievably," Hyde said.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.