Maui island is about to complete a long and arduous effort to plan for the future. The Maui Island Plan was meant to be a process of and by the people to decide what we want to protect and where sensible growth may occur. One of the most important parts of the MIP is the directed growth boundaries in Chapter 8, which will decide our urban, rural and agricultural zones and where they are not.
Urban sprawl occurs when urban areas are designated where there are no facilities (fire, police, schools, medical services), infrastructure (adequate roads, water, wastewater treatment), or a wide variety of jobs and businesses. Urban sprawl leads to the demise of small-town character since these pockets of growth eventually meld together and we lose the boundaries of our distinct small towns. Sprawl also stresses natural resources, like our coral reefs, leading to destruction. Rezoning agricultural areas for urban growth is a gamble in areas where there are no plans for the county to provide facilities or infrastructure.
The directed growth boundaries in the MIP were meant to help limit urban density to current urban areas, or areas where infrastructure and facilities are already in place. However, parts of the MIP propose new urban areas where no infrastructure or facilities currently exist, thereby encouraging building in areas that are not suitable or safe for residents, particularly during storms, tsunamis or other high-water events.
At 9 a.m. Nov. 27, in the County Council Chambers (200 S. High St.), the full County Council will be accepting testimony on the final version of the Maui Island Plan, bringing to an end a decade long process of planning and community input. I encourage all residents to get to know what is being proposed and voice opinions during this meeting. The plan is available online at www.mauicounty.gov/archives/201/Chapter%208%20-%20clean%20copy.pdf.
The MIP will never please everyone, but it is important to make growth decisions within the context of protecting our land, our ocean and our residents. Scientists have repeatedly documented that degradation of ocean resources are directly related to the degree of urbanization and that rising sea levels and more frequent storms mean we must retreat from current shorelines. Thus we should not encourage building along the shore by designating new land for development.
Once an area is designated as urban, almost anything may be built there. It could be housing or it might be a big-box store. The plan does not determine what building or development goes on the land, it only designates where development may occur.
The MIP does not guarantee that currently proposed development plans will be what are eventually built. A perfect example is what happened in north Kihei, which was included in a community plan based on a developer's proposal that never panned out. As a result, the land was sold and could now be home to a mega-mall.
We must remember that once growth boundaries are established they are unlikely to be reversed. It is crucially important to realize the implications of urbanizing an area that currently lacks infrastructure or facilities. The cost of new roads, wastewater facilities, schools and emergency services will fall on county taxpayers. Unfortunately, the MIP chapter that discusses these costs will be discussed later.
I am pro-affordable housing, pro-sustainable development and pro-jobs. I am also for responsibility, trust in our traditions and respect for natural resources. I support diligent efforts to build and grow jobs and families in areas that are safe and capable of sustaining them.
We are fortunate to live close to the deep blue world that surrounds us, keeping us keenly aware of our island's movements, its life, its breath. The land and water tell us where not to build. You can see the effects of prior decisions in our dying reefs, our degraded fisheries and our invaded watersheds.
I encourage everyone to learn from past mistakes and make smart decisions to protect special places. I challenge decisions that we'll be proud of in the future. Let's discourage the creation of new urban areas that have no infrastructure, facilities, jobs or ability to keep residents safe.
* Sarah E. McLane is the executive director of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.