Nearly 40 Maui Lani residents have signed a petition opposing the state's 65-acre Central Maui Regional Park, also known as the Central Maui Sports Complex, saying that the facility will negatively affect their neighborhood with noise from sporting activities and nighttime lighting.
Although the project is rolling with millions of dollars in funding and permits approved, some residents said that they only recently have been informed about the proposed park and feel that they did not have adequate input. The proposed park is bordered by Kuihelani Highway to the east, several Maui Lani residential areas to the north and other proposed developments to the west and south.
"People knew there was a park coming, (but) I don't think they understood it was going to be this huge," said Mark Hoenig, who lives in the Na Hoku subdivision and originated the online petition and website to shed light on the project.
He said that he only found out about the proposed park with 13 soccer and ballfields in the past month when a consultant's notice about a Maui Planning Commission meeting on the project showed up in his mailbox.
Ayres Schmitt, another neighbor whose property is next to the proposed park, said that he would have "never bought this house" in 2009 if he knew there would be a sports complex nearby.
"My understanding (was) this was going to be a regional park . . . not a sports complex for the sports enthusiasts," he said.
Schmitt said he "grew up on the ballfields" and played semi-professionally. He understands that communities have parks and that sports should be enjoyed.
"I just don't want it in my backyard," he said, adding that the proposed park should not shatter the "quiet enjoyment" of the neighborhood.
While his home will not abut the proposed park, Bill Schlueter, who lives in a nearby cul-de-sac, said that he is concerned about the noise and how the lights will affect the neighborhood. He also is worried about how the proposed park's impacts will affect property values in the area, where homeowners paid at least a "half a million" dollars for their residences.
"I didn't spend that kind of money to turn around and listen to the baseball game," he said.
Schlueter proposed that the ballfields be kept away from the residences and be placed in other areas. He compared the field lighting to powerful golf driving-range lighting, such as at the nearby Dunes at Maui Lani Golf Course that can be seen from afar.
Although some residents just have gotten wind of the proposed park in their neighborhood, planning has been ongoing for several years, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, an ardent supporter of the proposed park, pointed out in an email Monday afternoon. He added that "due diligence" has been and continues to be practiced in the planning for the park, which began receiving appropriations in 2011.
"Meetings have been held with Maui Lani homeowners association members and other stakeholders. A public meeting was also publicly noticed and held at Pomaikai Elementary last year," Tsutsui said. "During my time as district senator, I also provided updates on the park's status through regular newsletters and briefings provided to the community. The vision and need for this park has been a long time coming and will positively impact our community, island and state for generations."
At a meeting one year ago at Pomaikai Elementary School, Tsutsui and county officials pointed out a need for more sports fields, citing insufficient facilities for local youth and adult leagues and overuse of existing fields. Although developed by the state, the proposed park eventually will be operated and maintained by the county.
"While the state is sensitive to concerns within the community, the feedback has demonstrated that there is overwhelming support for the construction of the Central Maui Sports Complex," Tsutsui said. "This park will benefit the area residents by providing practice and playing facilities for our young athletes, while also serving as a gathering place for families to play and spend quality time together."
Tsutsui said that, in 2007, a facilities assessment done for the Maui County Planning Department identified the need for 542 acres of park space to support the growing population in the Kahului and Wailuku areas. The state then undertook plans for the construction of a park.
In an environmental assessment for the Central Maui Regional Park, plans call for one high school baseball field, four softball fields, four youth baseball fields and four soccer fields along with about 575 parking stalls, restrooms and concession areas. Its cost was estimated at $22 million, with at least half that amount appropriated as of the end of last year.
Tsutsui's office said that the park will be developed in phases.
There is no construction start date yet, but the review of the construction bids currently is underway, according to Tsutsui's office. The state is working on a purchase agreement for the land from Alexander & Baldwin.
Area residents who attended a Maui Planning Commission meeting last week on the project voiced their concerns about noise and the night lighting, said county Planning Director Will Spence.
"I can understand that, ballfield lights can be very bright and shine intrusively into homes. DLNR (the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the park developers) will meet again with the neighbors to see how to mitigate that," Spence said in an email Monday.
The commission unanimously approved a county special use permit for the project on the county-zoned agricultural area, Spence added.
"It's going to be a good project. Maui is in short supply for ballfields, and I think Lt. Gov. Tsutsui and his staff should be thanked for their foresight and efforts in the area," he said.
Neighbors opposed to the park also questioned how the county could maintain another park.
Mayor Alan Arakawa said Monday afternoon that "the reality is parks will only be as good as the council will allow" them to be. He said that the county would be able to upkeep the park if the administration is allowed to have enough staff and funding.
Hoenig said that the neighbors are working on drafting a letter to send to the state about their concerns. The group also has an online petition at www.petitions24.com/cen tral_maui_regional_park and started up a website at www.central-maui-sports-complex.com.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.