KIHEI - A revamped mixed-use project on former ranch property in north Kihei seemed, at the least, more palatable to Kihei residents Tuesday night, which is a shift in public opinion from when developers originally proposed two large outlet malls that outraged some community members and led to a challenge at the state Land Use Commission.
Texas-based landowner Sarofim Realty Advisors and its consultants presented new conceptual plans for the revised and consolidated $200 million Piilani Promenade project. The development would occupy a 75-acre parcel mauka of Piilani Highway and east of Kaonoulu Road. Tuesday night's presentation was the landowners' first large public event to unveil the new plans. The event drew at least 150 people to the Kihei Community Center.
Preliminary plans call for around 226 housing units, a 2.5-acre park, retail, business and light industrial areas, pedestrian and bicycle pathways and infrastructure upgrades. Those include plans for a 1-million-gallon water tank for project use and for South Maui, and highway improvements at the project's entrance at Piilani Highway and Kaonoulu Road.
Kihei resident Elinor Gawel looks over plans by Sarofim Realty Advisors.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
Developers said traffic studies show a 25 percent reduction in vehicle traffic with the new project plan. The former outlet mall project would have consisted of 700,000 square feet of retail space, which has been scaled back, although specific figures were not available.
Even though plans have changed, some Kihei residents still aren't sold.
Before hearing the presentation Elinor Gawel told The Maui News that she is still concerned about having more retail space created in South Maui where there are so many existing vacant spaces.
"My (one) concern is we have vacant commercial space; this is not likely to help that situation," she said.
The former planner from Maryland said that developers probably wouldn't like her suggestion for the project, which would be to not build at all.
Another Kihei resident, Donna Rolens, said of the plans: "It's nice; it's not two megamalls. . . . This of course seems more acceptable. . . . But we'll see."
Rolens said that she still wanted to know more about the project's traffic plans, noting that the Kihei high school will be built nearby.
She also disliked Tuesday's meeting process, which had residents going up to the property officials or consultants with their questions after the formal presentation, versus someone walking up to a microphone to ask their question to company officials in front of the entire room.
Kihei Community Association President Mike Moran said that he heard the same concern from meeting-goers who wanted a question-and-answer process involving the entire room rather one on one.
"That removes all that from the public. Nobody in the public is hearing what the public is saying," Moran said after the meeting.
He called the meeting more of a public relations event by the owners. After the meeting, officials explained that the one-on-one contact with the owners was a better way of getting questions answered.
Moran acknowledged that the KCA and Sarofim had met several times prior to the meeting, although on the company's terms. He added that the organization submitted its opinions during a public comment period when the environmental impact statement preparation notice was released in September.
"We think it's an improvement from what they originally said," Moran said of the company's plans. "But we still think it's hard to say" what to think about the development.
Some lingering concerns about the project include traffic and the size of the retail proposed, as well as the 1-million-gallon water tank that would be dedicated to the county, but would use county water supplies, Moran said.
He added that some of those concerns cannot be addressed currently by the owners because plans still need to be formalized, and retail space cannot be predicted until tenants are found.
Company officials said that they had to put out concepts for the property to do the environmental studies needed for the project and that more detailed information would be provided during the entitlement process.
Currently, Sarofim is working toward a motion to amend its project that is due to be filed no later than Dec. 31 with the state Land Use Commission.
The motion comes after a series of events in 2012 and 2013, and after plans were unveiled for the originally proposed Piilani Promenade and Maui Outlets.
The outlet plans ran into a roadblock when the land commission in February found the project to be in violation of three conditions imposed by the panel on the parcel back in 1995, when the zoning reclassification was granted to the former landowners.
Before the commission could issue a formal decision and order, the developers requested time to change their plans. In June, the LUC granted the developer's request to submit a motion by Dec. 31 to amend the plans, to prepare for an environmental impact statement and give the public an opportunity to comment.
Interveners Maui Tomorrow Foundation, South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth and Kihei resident Daniel Kanahele challenged the outlet mall plans before the LUC. They maintained that the former project plans went beyond what was represented to the commission in 1995. The interveners want the commission to issue a written decision and order, which they say would help provide clarity and closure for the Kihei community on the project.
As a condition of granting the development's motion for more time to amend its project, the commission ruled that no development or work would be allowed at the proposed site until the motion to amend has been filed.
Although she was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting, Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow said: "We are glad there has been a presentation to the community. I think that's a step in the right direction."
But she added that the group has filed its concerns in conjunction with the environmental review process and is eager to hear back from the developers. The concerns include traffic and water issues and a hope to have owners seek a community plan amendment for project plans, including retail development.
When the original project was proposed, some community members were upset over the lack of public communication provided by the developer.
On Tuesday night, company officials including Simon Honeybone, vice president of retail investments for Sarofim Realty Advisors, addressed the issue.
"Obviously they were handled in not a very good manner," Honeybone said. "I accept full responsibility for that."
The former development group hired by Sarofim, Eclipse Development Group, is no longer on the job. Sarofim has elected to work directly with the community on the project.
Project owner-representative Charlie Jencks said that he hopes the final environmental impact statement will be issued next year, and he aims to go through a community plan amendment process with the Maui Planning Commission and County Council.
"We want to get this done and get people to work," Jencks said after the meeting.
Overall, when the project is built, Jencks estimated that the project would generate 1,500 jobs.
Out of the estimated 226 housing units, approximately 25 percent would be deemed affordable, and there would be an easement for pedestrian and bicycle accessibility to the project via Ohukai Street, Jencks said.
Now, landowners are trying to work with the state to allow a bike and pedestrian pathway from and to the new Kihei high school.
Jencks said the pathway could be a cantilever type, which would not go down into private land in neighboring Kulanihakoi Gulch.
Officials also added that the current level of approved roadway improvements tied to the project would not change, even though total traffic generation for the project is less than the previous plan.
Those traffic improvements are set for Piilani Highway at Kaonoulu Road. Plans call for additional acceleration and deceleration lanes; a new traffic signal; and pedestrian crossing provided for Piilani Highway.
In a PowerPoint presentation, officials said that Kulanihakoi Gulch would not be touched and there would be no change in the area's drainage patterns. There also would be no increase runoff to downstream properties as required by the Maui County drainage ordinance.
The housing component has been placed on the property nearest to Ohukai Road with the park and light industrial proposed makai of the housing. Most of the retail, business and commercial development would be on the Kulanihakoi Gulch side of the parcel.
Officials envision restaurants with outdoor seating, with some overlooking water features and the proposed park area. The park would not be for playing fields but could be used for film screenings or food and wine festival events.
A copy of the project's environmental impact statement preparation notice can be found at oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/ Shared%20Documents/EA_and_EIS_Online_Library/Maui/2010s/2013-09-23-MA-5E-EISPN-Piilani-Promenade.pdf.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.