KAHULUI - State Land Use Commission members reversed themselves Thursday, unanimously approving a state land-use reclassification from agricultural to urban for the 68-lot Kahoma affordable housing project.
The commission members' action came after they agreed last month to reconsider their Dec. 5 vote. In that vote, developer West Maui Land Co. received four votes in favor of its petition - two short of the six required for a state land reclassification.
Factors that led to the reconsideration included new information. First, that the Maui County Council had approved the Maui Island Plan on Dec. 21. The plan calls for an affordable housing development on the project site, calling it an "in-fill planned growth area" that is "surrounded by previously developed lands." Secondly, on Nov. 25, the county adopted best management practices for storm water quality that would be applied to drainage plans for the Kahoma project.
Honolulu resident Routh Bolomet makes a presentation as an intervener before the state Land Use Commission on Thursday. She called on the panel to reject West Maui Land Co.’s petition for a state land-use reclassification for its Kahoma affordable housing project.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Closing statements were mostly restated arguments by attorneys representing the developer, Maui County and state Office of Planning and from the interveners, Lahaina resident Michele Lincoln and Honolulu resident Routh Bolomet.
West Maui Land Co. attorney James Geiger said that while the project developers respect Native Hawaiian culture, they don't agree or accept that there are cultural sites on the 16.7 acres of former sugar cane land between the Kahoma Stream flood control channel and homes mauka of the former Pioneer Mill.
Nevertheless, Geiger suggested including a more stringent archaeological monitoring condition - which was adopted by the commission - that requires watching the site for cultural features whenever the ground is disturbed by construction work.
Geiger reiterated that the project site is surrounded by urban uses, including a neighboring light industrial commercial project approved in the 1990s and the Kahoma Stream flood control project completed in the early 1990s.
He noted that the County Council has twice approved the development of affordable housing on the property.
Geiger quoted testimony from Paia resident Bruce U'u, who earlier this month told commissioners that the Kahoma project was in a "perfect place," close to shopping, the shoreline, Lahaina town and schools. Because the project is in an already developed area, it's in close proximity to roads and utilities.
The attorney also argued that the project would not negatively impact traffic and it would add only a small fraction of storm runoff.
Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux said that Maui County remained in strong support of the project.
"We need affordable housing. We're in a crisis," he said. "We are suffering here, trying to get our people into decent housing."
Maui residents and families need affordable housing to enable them to stay here, Giroux said.
"Maui needs this. My friends need this. My friends' families need this," he said. "We want to see the people we grew up with stay here, and the only way we can do that is to provide affordable housing."
Giroux said that the county's support for the project was not at the expense of the environment.
Recently updated storm water quality standards will be enforced with the developer, and there is ample capacity for the project's projected additional wastewater, he said.
Deputy Attorney General Bryan Yee, representing the state Office of Planning, said that the state doesn't usually support motions for reconsideration. But, in the Kahoma housing case, it was appropriate and needed, he said, because commissioners did not adequately explain the reason for their Dec. 5 decision.
It was "very clear" to the state that the developer had met the criteria necessary for a land-use reclassification, Yee said.
The project's nearly 17 acres is "so small" that if it were only 2 acres less then it wouldn't need to come before the Land Use Commission, he said, also noting that the development area is surrounded by urban uses.
It would make little sense to keep the property in agriculture because it's in an urban area, an odd shape and with no easy access to irrigation water, Yee said.
Lincoln, one of two interveners, disputed that the project has met the criteria for land reclassification. She said that the property has cultural and historic significance that justify denial of the proposed land-use change.
Agricultural lands should be protected, she said, maintaining that a farmer could get crops on only 2,000 square feet of land. Lincoln said that the landowners were not using the property for agriculture "by choice."
Bolomet also said that the property could be used for agriculture, which would provide jobs that would allow people to afford housing.
She said the project's 16.7 acres could provide more than 100 jobs and feed as many as 1,000 families.
Affordable housing attached to two earlier developments - Puukolii Village and Pulelehua - have not been developed, she said. So, the development of affordable housing is not guaranteed.
Bolomet said she's a lineal descendant of Native Hawaiians who owned the land at Kahoma and she has the obligation to take care of the land and its people. She said the property has cultural and archaeological sites that would be impacted by the development.
When commission members deliberated on the project, commissioners with Maui ties - Jaye Napua Makua, an at-large member born and raised on Maui, and Sheldon Biga, who holds the commission's Maui seat - both expressed support for the project.
Biga, who is from Lahaina and voted against the project in December, described the development as a "thorn" for him, although he said that because of the "facts of laws" he supported it.
Makua said her "kuleana," or responsibility, on the commission has been as an advocate for Native Hawaiian cultural preservation, but she said her review of the project showed that the developers did adequately attempt to address cultural impacts.
With Thursday's vote, the commission's staff will draft a decision and order, which will need to be approved by the panel at a later meeting.
After the hearing, Geiger said he was "very pleased" the commission decided to support affordable housing in Lahaina.
Lincoln said she was disappointed, but "God is in control, and I trust in him that whatever happens to the land will be good."
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.