Lifelong residents of rural Olowalu in West Maui say their town wants the proposed improvements and amenities that would come with plans to build some 1,500 housing units in the area.
"It will bring improvements to us that we have not had before," 82-year-old Olowalu resident Adeline Kaahui Rodrigues said of the proposed Olowalu Town project. "I want the town now, and not 20 years from now."
In addition to housing, plans for the 600-acre Olowalu project, which date back to 2005, include a school, post office, community center, parks and fire and police stations. Plans also call for small wastewater treatment and solid waste plants for the former plantation village.
Rodrigues and other residents voiced their support for the project Monday before the Maui County Council's General Plan Committee.
County Council members heard hours of testimony from 61 people on proposed growth boundaries for West Maui as part of the committee's ongoing review of the Maui Island Plan.
While Olowalu Town was supported by the General Plan Advisory Committee, by a vote of 21-4, as well as by the Maui Planning Commission, it was not included in the current growth boundaries proposed by the Department of Planning.
The department has instead proposed growth areas within Lahaina town and Kaanapali. Existing and proposed projects in the plan would allow adding about 8,500 new housing units in West Maui.
"The department felt we could meet the needs of West Maui in areas that have employment, have infrastructure . . . and where there was less risk of some of the natural resources," John Summers, administrator of the department's Long Range Planning Division, said of the decision not to support Olowalu Town.
"It was really a process of evaluating all of the different areas and trying to meet the housing needs in areas that would be efficient and avoid risk," Summers said.
The General Plan Committee will next meet Aug. 2 to deliberate on the proposed West Maui growth areas. Committee Chairwoman Gladys Baisa closed public testimony at the end of Monday's meeting.
Several testifiers said they support the Olowalu Town project because Wailuku-based developer Frampton & Ward has pledged to devote half of the units - 750 units - to affordable housing.
Others who oppose the project mostly expressed concerns about the impact development could have on the area's coral reefs.
Mark Deakos, executive director of the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, said Olowalu is home to Maui's only remaining healthy reef.
He testified that "urbanizing" Olowalu would threaten corals that he says are more than 500 years old.
Hannah Bernard, president and co-founder of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, called Olowalu's reefs "one of the most interesting biological and ecological structures on the planet."
She cited concerns about sediment and runoff from the proposed development.
Developer Bill Frampton said his company wants to work with stakeholders to address mitigation concerns.
"It would be absolutely foolish or absurd for us, or asinine, to think that Olowalu is not unique and special. Those reefs are wonderful . . . We know they're wonderful, which is why we need to work together to make sure it's done right," Frampton said. "We believe that our storm water management plans, our wastewater treatment plans, and the ways that we capture storm runoff instead of letting it run into the ocean - there are ways to address this."
Bill Kamai of the Hawaii Carpenters Union testified in support of Olowalu, citing the 150 construction-related jobs that would be created annually during build-out.
Council members did not deliberate on the plans Monday, but Council Member Joe Pontanilla appeared to be in support of the Olowalu project if it can help alleviate traffic congestion in West Maui.
"With all the growth included in the Lahaina town area, I'm looking at the congestion within the town itself," Pontanilla said. "When you look at the project for Olowalu Town, you can create less density in Lahaina town and less traffic congestion within Lahaina town and relocate some of the workforce away from the center of Lahaina. My 2 cents."
Another project included in the proposed growth boundaries for West Maui is the state's controversial affordable housing project Villages of Leialii next to the Lahaina Civic Center.
But only 180 acres, or 20 percent of the project, has been included in the growth boundaries at this point.
The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. (HHFDC), the state agency charged with overseeing affordable housing development, said the state has spent $29 million on infrastructure for the project to date.
If Leialii is approved to be included in a growth area, the agency wants to put the project out for bids, said Rick Prahler, development branch chief for HHFDC.
Leialii dates back to 1990, when it was proposed as a 4,800-unit development - half of which would be affordable housing.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has since bought a portion of the project and has built 116 homes.
Plans for Leialii were halted in 1993 when the Office of Hawaiian Affairs sued because the project is sited on ceded lands.
Prahler said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the state has the vested title on the lands.
But, the state Legislature has since created legislation that requires a super majority in order for the state to sell ceded lands.
That means future homes built on the site would be sold as leasehold, unless the Legislature approves selling fee simple. Prahler said the leasehold terms could possibly be 65 years or longer.
Some of the other projects included in the proposed growth areas are:
* The 8-mile coastal Pali to Puamana Parkway, which would involve the county buying about 200 acres between Launiupoko and Ukumehame. The county in 2006 bought 100 acres in Ukumehame to start the parkway.
* Placing 255 acres of Honolua Bay, Lipoa Point and adjacent shoreline areas in a protection area.
* Kaanapali Land Management Corp.'s 1,800-unit Kaanapali 2020 project.
* The 68-unit Kahoma affordable housing project near Lahainaluna High School.
* Moving the existing Launiupoko agricultural subdivision lots within the rural growth boundary.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.