WAILUKU - The master-planned Honua'ula project in Wailea received a key approval Tuesday by the Maui Planning Commission that will allow development of the luxury golf community to move forward.
The nine-member commission voted eight in favor with Commissioner Penny Wakida having reservations to approve the $1.2 billion project's final environmental impact statement.
The project - formerly called Wailea 670 - is expected to include up to 1,150 housing units on 670 acres above Wailea Resort. The project is expected to include an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, retail and commercial components, a 12-mile network of trails and bike paths, and a 40-acre preserve for native plants.
An additional 250 affordable housing units will be built off-site near the planned Piilani Promenade and Maui Outlets projects. The affordable housing component was a condition imposed by the County Council when it approved zoning four years ago and must be built before units at Honua'ula can go up.
In addition, landowner Honua'ula Partners also needs to complete a project to widen Piilani Highway between Kilohana and Wailea Ike drives from two to four lanes as part of its traffic mitigation plan before heavy construction can begin.
Asked about a construction timeline, owner representative Charlie Jencks said "delivery of product within three years is essential."
He called the approval of the EIS "a big, big milestone" three years in the making.
All of the major hurdles for the project have been cleared, Jencks said, though two other approvals are needed - phase two project district approval by the planning commission and habitant conservation plan approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Honua'ula would be built gradually in compliance with a previously set cap of 100 market-priced units annually.
Jencks said the landowner will build the basic infrastructure, the golf course and clubhouse, and some of the housing developments. It would sell off subdivisions to be built by other developers.
Tuesday's decision comes two years after Honua'ula Partners presented its draft EIS, which the commission at the time responded to with 22 concerns that it wanted answered or clarified.
Those concerns included questions about archaeological surveys, details on plans to provide potable and nonpotable water within the development, addressing concerns with native plants on the site, and the availability of electrical and other utility services.
The final EIS proposes a 40-acre native plant preserve - increased from 22 acres - designed to include native plants, cultural sites, and a habitat for the endangered native Blackburn's sphinx moth that's been reported on property.
As part of a separate habitat conservation plan, Jencks has proposed an off-site 350-acre conservation easement on Ulupalakua Ranch lands to offset any impact to the moth's habitat.
That plan awaits approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
During the daylong hearing, questions about the development's private water company and wastewater plans came up.
Because the project will have its own private water company, Commission Member Keone Ball asked if the county would have to step in in the event of a catastrophic event. Dave Taylor, director of the county's Department of Water Supply, said the county would not be liable.
The water director noted that Maui has at least six private water companies, and that the county in some cases has stepped in to assist when there have been failures. But, he said Honua'ula would be too large a project for the county to assist.
Taylor also dispelled some concerns over a county community plan rule that has been interpreted by some to prohibit any water from being taken from the neighboring Upcountry district for consumption outside the district except for irrigation use.
He noted that the Upcountry Community Plan uses the verb "restrict," not prohibit or forbid.
"This water is a stone's throw away from South Maui. It's water that would've made its way down naturally," Taylor said. "I don't see how this projected project is in violation."
Commission Member Max Tsai was concerned about some of the proposed water rates that residents would be charged.
The developer said rates could be set to help offset the $21 million that will be spent on water infrastructure. Rates for nonpotable water could be between $2 to $4 per 1,000 gallons, and between $5 and $10 per 1,000 gallons for potable water. The rates for the affordable housing units would be required to be set at the county rate at the time, which presently is $1.70 per 1,000 gallons.
Planning Commission members appeared satisfied to hear that the state Public Utilities Commission would have to approve rates and rate increases for the private water company.
Other public testifiers expressed concern over the idea that a wastewater treatment facility may or may not be built on-site.
Jencks said the preferred option is to send wastewater off-site to the Makena Resort's existing treatment facility with the recycled water brought back for use for the golf course and irrigation.
Commission Member Jack Freitas asked if that agreement with Makena has been finalized. Jencks said a formal agreement isn't in place yet, but that Makena Resort has agreed that the plan is viable and that Honua'ula should pursue it.
Other public testimony on the final EIS questioned the need for an additional, separate environmental review of the 250 off-site affordable housing units, which is not included in the Honua'ula review. Jencks says the land - near the intersection of Kaonoulu Street and Piilani Highway - is already zoned for light industrial use, which allows for apartment houses.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.