The developer of the master-planned Olowalu Town project in West Maui says the area is bound for development whether or not the Maui County Council places the 600-acre project within the island's urban growth boundaries.
Developer Bill Frampton of Wailuku-based Frampton & Ward says he's proposing smart growth that can provide affordable housing for residents in a way that mitigates potential impacts to the area's reef and marine life, rural character and traffic.
"We're providing another option - a community where you can live, work and play and rely upon smart growth," Frampton told The Maui News. "All the points about the reef, the traffic and water - it's all extremely valid and justified. However, we honestly believe that we can coexist with nature, if we do it right."
Plans for Olowalu Town, which date back to 2005, call for 1,500 units, a town center, parks and areas for public facilities such as a school, post office and emergency services. Frampton has promised half the units - 750 units - would be devoted to affordable housing.
"Keep in mind that today, that project . . . is already subdivided into large agricultural lots," Frampton told the County Council's General Plan Committee on Tuesday.
"If we fail, and if we don't succeed in getting the council's approval, the land is not going to sit as is," he said. "It will be sold off and will not be sold to local families. It will be high-end priced lots, and I can guarantee you local families will not have the opportunity to return to the land."
The General Plan Committee on Tuesday heard additional testimony on proposed boundaries for West Maui as part of its ongoing review of the Maui Island Plan.
The Olowalu Town project is not included in the current 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 General Plan Committee, which last week heard testimony from 61 people, heard from 30 people Tuesday, some of them repeat testifiers. The meeting was recessed and will resume Thursday morning at 9 in Council Chambers, when members are expected to begin deliberations.
"This is just testimony now," Committee Chairwoman Gladys Baisa said. "We will get into the details later."
Several Olowalu residents again voiced their support for the project, saying their former plantation village needs the infrastructure and amenities that will come with the development.
Environmental groups - including the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, Sierra Club Maui Group and the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research - testified against the Olowalu development.
Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, noted that the existing number of housing units included in the proposed growth boundaries represent 116 percent of West Maui's housing needs - without Olowalu Town.
Lucienne de Naie and Dick Mayer, who both served on the General Plan Advisory Committee, said the GPAC supported previous plans for Olowalu Town that differ from what's being proposed today.
The GPAC had voted 21-4 in favor of the project; de Naie and Mayer cast two of the dissenting votes. The project also was approved by the Maui Planning Commission by a 5-2 vote.
Mayer called the project "a real bait-and-switch from what we saw at GPAC."
He cited an increase from 25,000 square feet of commercial space to 300,000 square feet. He also said initial plans included 500 affordable housing units and 500 below-market priced units, for a total of 1,000 affordable homes.
Lifelong Olowalu resident Adeline Kaahui Rodrigues, a supporter of the project, said she was offended by opposing testimony from nonresidents.
"How sad it is for us local families to feel displaced on an island where all of us were born. For people to come here and dictate where we can live, where we cannot live, how to live, and how not to live. . . .," she said trailing off.
Other Olowalu residents said commercial tour boats, snorkelers and kayakers are already harming the reefs.
Hawaiian cultural adviser Kimokeo Kapahulehua testified that he's been working with Frampton & Ward on a mitigation plan for Olowalu's reefs and other culturally significant areas.
"They're very sensitive to the culture," he said of the developers.
Council Member Elle Cochran, who holds the West Maui residency seat, said she has heard concerns from the Fujii family that owns the iconic Olowalu General Store that sits on Honoapiilani Highway.
The developer's plans would shift Honoapiilani Highway mauka and away from the shoreline, where much of the existing roadway is deteriorating from wave damage.
The store owners expressed concern that their business - located in the only existing retail building in Olowalu - could be displaced with the highway shift, Wallace Fujii, a partner of the Fujii Family Ltd. Partnership, wrote in comments on the project's draft environmental impact statement.
"Losing the store will bring about a loss of the Olowalu history, culture and the last remaining retail business in that community," Fujii wrote. "The loss of the business will mean that any new retail business will not have the history of being in existence for over 100 years in Olowalu."
Frampton said plans have been revised to relocate the proposed town center and commercial area closer to Olowalu General Store "to make them a part of our community."
Some council members have hinted that they may favor the Olowalu development over other proposed housing projects in Lahaina town to balance out the concentration of units in West Maui.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.
**** Olowalu Town. Lucienne de Naie testified Tuesday against the proposed Olowalu Town project as an individual, not in her capacity as a member of the Sierra Club Maui Group's executive committee. While the organization does not support the project, the group did not submit testimony. De Naie's representation was reported incorrectly.