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Wailuku Heights home one step closer to hosting parties, events

The Maui Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a state Land Use Commission special permit for Lona Ridge in Wailuku Heights, an action that moves the property one step closer to being able to host commercial events, such as weddings, workshops and corporate and nonprofit receptions.

The project still requires a conditional permit, which will need to be approved by the Maui County Council. It will be referred to a council committee, which likely will hold hearings next year, said Deputy Planning Director Michele Chouteau McLean on Wednesday.

The special permit approval came after the commission listened to hours of testimony for and against the permit with most of the testimony heard at its Aug. 23 meeting, where the commission deferred action after a daylong session and nearly 70 testifiers. The matter was again heard Tuesday afternoon.

Those against the permit were mostly neighbors, who were worried about safety and noise and the changing of the residential character of the neighborhood. On the other side, high school students said property owner Leona Rocha Wilson had done much for education and small business and that her home would continue to host and serve the community.

Wilson said hosting the special events will help generate some income so she can continue to host school and senior citizens and other community groups for free at the property. She also is growing various trees and native Hawaiian plants on her property, some for research and restoration in other areas.

The commission Tuesday voted 7 to 1 to grant the state Land Use Commission special permit, with Sandra Duvauchelle dissenting. Commissioner Richard Higashi recused himself and was not present at the special meeting Tuesday. Higashi and Wilson are in a relationship, they said, though Higashi said he had no financial stake in the outcome of the proceeding.

Because the permit was for a property under 15 acres, the Maui Planning Commission had jurisdiction. Requests for larger properties are handled by the state Land Use Commission.

The permit approval included 30 conditions of which, eight were added by the commission, McLean said. The other conditions came from the Department of Planning, although some conditions such as those relating to the number of events that can be held and the maximum amount of people allowed at the property were tweaked by the commission, McLean added.

In the end, the commission is allowing Wilson to conduct 15 events per year. The Planning Department had originally called for two per month for a total of 24 annually. McLean said Wilson had initially requested 36 events per year.

The commission is capping the number of people per event at 65. The department had called for 60, and Wilson asked for 75 to 100 people, McLean said.

The eight conditions added by the commission included planting buffer landscape around the property to mitigate noise; allowing only beer and wine as the alcohol to be served; requiring staff serving alcohol to be licensed; no pyrotechnics and open flames, though candles and tiki torches are allowed; no use of drones or helicopters and no illegal drug use on the property.

Any event serving alcohol must have guests shuttled to and from the property, said McLean. Residents were concerned about people drinking and driving in their neighborhood. Also, guests will need to be registered with Lona Ridge so the their names are available. The condition was included in response to neighbors’ concerns about not knowing who was in their neighborhood, she said.

On Wednesday, Wilson said that she admires and respects the conditions.

“I will adhere to it,” she said in a phone interview.

She also was appreciative of the commission for the time it put into her request, treating her fairly and addressing concerns from the community.

“I admire the commission,” Wilson said. “I admire the amount of work they put into this. It wasn’t easy in the sense of addressing the issues they needed to address.”

Wilson said the Planning Department and planner Gina Flammer worked hard for everyone, not only her but the community as well.

The property sits at the top of the Wailuku Heights subdivision at 588 Kulaiwi Drive. The 5.75-acre property includes a five-bedroom, 8,032-square-foot dwelling and a swimming pool built in 2008. Much of the property is dedicated to agriculture with hundreds of trees and other native plants.

Currently, the county-zoned agriculture property is permitted for farm and honey-tasting tours.

The commission Tuesday also denied a petition to intervene on the permit by Wailuku Heights resident Harold Davis.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.