In an effort to preserve Upcountry's idyllic charm, a County Council committee Monday unanimously approved including a sprawling "greenway" from Pukalani to Kula in future development plans for the island.
The designation would prohibit development and is envisioned to be a network of bike paths, pedestrian walkways and trails to link the Upcountry communities of Haiku, Makawao, Pukalani and Kula.
The greenway would be 500 feet wide on both sides of the roadway. The first leg would run along the Pukalani bypass from Makani Road and continue north on Haleakala Highway just past King Kekaulike High School.
Another leg would extend the greenway along Haleakala Highway up to the residential boundary before the Kula Lodge & Restaurant.
"My interest is that this is a very important byway, and if there is one thing I think we would all like to do for our kids, it is to preserve the open feeling of Upcountry," said Council Member Mike White, who represents Makawao, Haiku and Paia.
White proposed the first leg of the beltway at the council's General Plan Committee meeting Monday, which included ongoing discussions of the Maui Island Plan to direct future growth and development.
Council Member Joe Pontanilla proposed the extension up Haleakala Highway. He also wanted to continue the open space corridor along Kula Highway to Ulupalakua, but Planning Department Director Will Spence cautioned against that move.
"It worries me to go there," Spence said, noting that there are hundreds of landowners along that stretch of Kula Highway who would be impacted.
Spence instead suggested the concept could be taken up during discussions of the individual community plans, which is the next step after the Maui Island Plan is approved. The beltway areas could later be zoned to include agricultural uses and active recreational uses, he said.
Council Chairman Danny Mateo had concerns about landowners taking legal actions against the county.
"This becomes fearful . . . when looking at how we're drawing lines," Mateo said. "Unlike our corporation counsel, I do not have a comfort zone that our actions do not preclude litigation, so I worry about the lines."
Planning Department staff said that they would be mindful not to prohibit any pre-existing uses when drawing the lines. The department said it will contact all impacted landowners.
Committee Chairwoman Gladys Baisa initially said including the beltway in the island plan was a simple guideline, but later acknowledged the plan could be viewed as binding.
"In the past, the general plan was looked to as guidance, but I think this Maui Island Plan is going to be regarded as law," Baisa said.
Committee members also unanimously approved designating 250 acres of land in Haliimaile owned by Maui Land & Pineapple Co. and another 80 acres owned by Alexander & Baldwin into a so-called "small town" growth area.
The landowners have been proposing separate master-planned projects for the former plantation village for several years. Alexander & Baldwin already holds entitlements and zoning to build a residential subdivision on 60 acres in the area.
The Planning Department says the "small town" designation in general "protects the integrity, unique sense of place and economic viability of Maui's traditional small towns." These areas are to be less densely developed than urban areas and have fewer services and less infrastructure needs.
The requested designation was not recommended by the Planning Department nor the General Plan Advisory Committee.
"I think the requirements for infrastructure for what's already included in the Haliimaile zone are going to require a larger number of lots for the infrastructure to be at a viable level," White said in proposing the district change. "Haliimaile is an area that is in the middle of an ag area now that is not easily visible from the highway, so I think it's an appropriate place for us to expand available units. And, as we all know, what gets approved by outline in these maps may never get built."
Ryan Churchill, Maui Land & Pine's president and chief operating officer, previously told the council that the project would include up to 1,450 homes.
Mateo told Churchill he was hesitant to support the move because the company has multiple projects in the works.
"I have a little hesitation with your request primarily because you already have a lot of projects not yet completed," Mateo said. "I know this is decades down the road, but I don't know how you're going to start to achieve these projects . . . I have a difficult time understanding a request when prior projects are not even moving."
Churchill pointed to the company's Kapalua Mauka and Pulelehua projects under way in West Maui and also said that the company believes it's important to plan ahead.
"This is further down the road . . . We expect another seven years to get through the process and plan this project out," Churchill said of Haliimaile. "I think it's important to secure a significant amount of area so we can start on those investments, primarily infrastructure . . . That's why we believe it's important to get our foot in now."
Churchill said after the meeting that he was "satisfied with the council's support."
The General Plan Committee also approved changing the designation for the agricultural subdivision at Anuhea Place in Pukalani to a higher-density rural designation, which would allow landowners the opportunity to subdivide and develop their lots.
Numerous residents of Anuhea Place had testified in support of the change at a prior committee meeting.
Baisa cautioned landowners that the change "is not a green light." Residents would still need to come before the council to seek a community plan amendment and zoning change to further develop their lots.
The committee agreed to place restrictions on future activities within the subdivision, including prohibiting landowners from subdividing lots smaller than 1 acre and continuing to allow agricultural uses.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.