WAILUKU - In a contentious Maui County Council committee meeting Tuesday, members appeared ready to purchase 186 acres in Launiupoko for $13 million and forego another appraisal to re-evaluate the owners' asking price.
With the push of Council Member Don Couch and Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, who wanted to gauge where members stood on the issue of new appraisals, the Budget and Finance Committee voted 6-2 in a nonbinding straw vote with the majority opposed to having another appraisal done on the Launiupoko lands. Mayor Alan Arakawa wants the land preserved as open space and developed as county coastline parks.
Committee Chairman Mike White and Council Member Elle Cochran of West Maui were on the losing end of the vote. They favored having a second appraisal done. Members Couch, Baisa, Robert Carroll, Mike Victorino, Stacy Crivello and Don Guzman were opposed. Council Member Riki Hokama was absent and excused.
The vote was moot because two resolutions - one to have a second appraisal done and the other for the current appraisal to be re-done by the same firm - have already been placed on Friday's full council meeting agenda for consideration.
Because the resolutions would be considered at the end of this week, White had planned to have the resolutions deferred Tuesday.
But things heated up and got complicated when Couch objected to the deferral and made a motion to have the committee vote on the measure to authorize the county to purchase the property.
He also produced previous documentation from the state's Office of Information Practices that he said showed he could introduce the motion.
After conferring with council staff during a recess, White said Couch's motion was "out of order" because it was not within the scope of what the committee was considering Tuesday. The measures before the committee were the resolutions for a new appraisal and a revision of the current appraisal.
After the meeting, Couch said: "It seemed like we had five people who wanted to get this done.
"It's either an up-or-down vote. Do we go for $13 million or not? We can't negotiate (with the landowner), why are we spending extra money for more appraisals, (it) might be only $10,000 or something like that but we are wasting time. If the appraisal comes in at $6 million are we all going to say no? If we are all going to say no, let's all say no now."
Couch added that he understands that White wants to do "due diligence."
"I don't like the price," Couch said, but he added that it is $3 million less than a previous price of $16 million.
Couch acknowledged that the meeting got heated. White recessed it several times when Couch brought up his points. At the ending of the meeting, Victorino took issue with Couch again trying to bring up how he is allowed to make a motion on the bill to purchase the property, citing the OIP documentation.
Victorino said the matter was decided.
"We have other matters that need to be taken care of and enough is enough," Victorino said.
After the meeting, Couch said: "I felt I had to do what I had to. I hope it doesn't ruin any relationships that I have."
The heated meeting ended abruptly, when White came back from a recess and adjourned the meeting, without giving a reason. The committee then did not entertain a motion on the second resolution to order a revised appraisal.
White's office said after the meeting that the conversation on the matter was dragging out and by adjourning the meeting the matters on the table would be deferred anyway.
"Although the members of the Budget and Finance Committee did not agree upon a second appraisal today, I will once again request a second appraisal at Friday's council meeting," White said in a statement after the meeting. "It is vital that when spending taxpayer funds, we are doing so in a diligent and accountable manner. It would be highly irresponsible to move forward on a $13 million land purchase without appropriate due diligence."
In his statement, White said he believes the appraisal brought to the council is "fundamentally flawed, and its assumptions were dictated by the administration, instead of using industry best practices."
He added that the appraisal compares developable parcels to lands that cannot be further developed.
"Therefore, the county could be paying substantially more than what the property is actually worth. Because of this, I feel a second opinion on the lands value is warranted," he said.
White told the committee that it could take about three to six weeks for an appraisal to be done, and its cost could range from $5,000 to $7,500. Owners have given the county up to Dec. 31 to make a decision.
The current land deal negotiated between the county administration and Makila Land Co. LLC, was forwarded to the County Council earlier this year. It proposes to acquire 148 acres from the northern edge of the former Olowalu Landfill to Launiupoko Beach Park and 37 acres from Launiupoko to Puamana Beach Park.
Recently, Steve Goodfellow, one of several landowners, said that if the county ordered another appraisal, and it valued the land at higher prices, Makila Land would likely ask for updated, higher appraised value.
Several council members have said the land was "priceless," and it should be bought and preserved.
Others said they didn't want to spend extra money on another appraisal and then find themselves in the same place, still facing a proposed purchase price of $13 million.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.