Developers of the planned Honua'ula luxury golf community in Wailea say they're still committed to building the required affordable housing units tied to the project despite telling the state Land Use Commission there are no immediate plans to start construction in the near future.
Charlie Jencks, representative for landowner Honua'ula Partners, says that over the last five years since the workforce housing was promised, several factors have kicked in, most notably the collapse of the housing market and the overall economic downturn.
When the Maui County Council approved a change in zoning in 2007 for the Honua'ula project site - 670 acres above Wailea Resort - council members imposed a requirement that 250 affordable housing units be built first. Council members were given assurances that the affordable housing could be built off-site immediately, according to archived meeting minutes.
"The (affordable) units must be completed by condition prior to any units within Honua'ula being built," Jencks said in a statement. "The project has not asked for relief from that condition and intends to fully comply."
The affordable housing units are proposed for an off-site location in Kihei that now also includes plans for two proposed shopping centers that have come under fire in the Land Use Commission.
Honua'ula's affordable housing project and the retail centers share the same 88-acre lot along Piilani Highway that is subject to conditions the commission imposed in 1995 when granting a land reclassification from agricultural to urban.
A challenge from community groups Maui Tomorrow Foundation and South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth and Kihei resident Daniel Kanahele has prompted the commission to revisit the site's approvals.
While the proposed Maui Outlets and Piilani Promenade shopping centers have been the main focus of opposition, the entire property faces the possibility of being reverted back to the agricultural district.
An order to show cause hearing - which will require the landowners to prove they have not violated conditions on the property - is scheduled for Nov. 1 and 2 before the LUC. The landowners will need to "show cause" as to why the land should not be reverted to agriculture.
Honua'ula contends that penalizing the workforce housing project because of the shopping centers' development activities would be "draconian and completely unreasonable."
In a recent filing asking the LUC to separate its affordable housing project from the challenge facing the retail centers, Honua'ula Partners says there are no immediate plans to build the affordable housing project.
"No construction is presently occurring on the Honua'ula parcel, and no construction activities are planned in the near future. No county building, grading or other permits that may be necessary for construction of the desired affordable housing units have been obtained," the motion states. "No firm estimates or time frames for when the construction . . . will commence have been established."
Responding to criticism that Honua'ula appears to be reneging on its promise to build the affordable housing quickly, Jencks said: "In October of 2007, the ability to construct the affordable homes based upon entitlement status was clear. However, other factors have intervened such as two lawsuits filed against the county and its approval of the (Honua'ula) project, . . . the availability of water later hampered by the Water Availability Bill, the collapse of the nation's economy and the consequent loss of any market demand."
He noted that Honua'ula has "worked to fund project elements in a nationwide recession second only to the Great Depression in a housing market that has gone bust with a substantial number of foreclosures and short sales in Maui County, in addition to the difficulty of moving projects forward in a timely manner through state and county approvals."
Jencks said the LUC challenge "will take time and further delay the overall (Honua'ula) project."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.