Planning commission votes to move Makena project forward

The proposed $354.5 million mixed-used Makena Resort project narrowly received enough votes from the Maui Planning Commission on Tuesday to allow the project to move forward without needing to prepare a lengthy environmental impact statement.

The panel accepted ATC Makena Holdings LLC’s final environmental assessment and found that the project, which would contain 158 housing units and a resort-oriented commercial village, would have “no significant impact.”

In the alternative, the panel could have asked developers to prepare a lengthy, time-consuming and expensive EIS, which critics of the project had asked for, alleging that the project would have a significant impact on the area. The study would have needed to go into details on each of the possible impacts of the project. The EA determines only if there would be a significant impact.

The 47-acre project, which is makai of Makena Alanui Road and to the Wailea side of the now closed Makena Beach & Golf Resort, will now need to return to the planning commission for a special management area permit.

Spread across three parcels, the 158-unit project would include 88 multifamily units, 20 single-family cottages, 26 single-family custom lots, 10 transient vacation rentals and a resort-oriented commercial village of 14 condos and 27,300 square feet of commercial space.

Planning Commission Chairman Max Tsai cast the deciding vote Tuesday in the 5-3 decision in favor of the project. With commissioner Larry Hudson absent, Tsai needed to vote.

Tsai said that although he would like to see an EIS on the project, he thought that the applicant had done its “job to address all the issues presented.”

Those voting in favor of accepting the EA and the finding of no significant impact were Vice Chairwoman Sandra Duvauchelle and commissioners Pua Canto, Stephen Castro and Richard Higashi. They applauded the work of development manager Discovery Land Co. and the outreach it had done.

Canto said that what influenced her was that longtime Makena residents and elders on Maui supported the project.

Those opposing were commissioners Wayne Hedani, Keaka Robinson and Lawrence Carnicelli.

Robinson said he wasn’t comfortable with the finding of no significant impact, but added that developers had come a long way.

Carnicelli also gave kudos to Discovery Land Co. for its work, but said he could not make a finding of no significant impact. He said developers had come close and had addressed many issues that were raised, but he still had issues including not having enough public parking in the area.

Hedani said that more work could be done to improve on one of the alternatives for the project. He had wanted the developers to come back in six weeks with tweaked plans, which would be similar to the point of Tuesday’s meeting.

During a January meeting regarding the final EA, commissioners deferred accepting the EA and asked the developers to come back with more information on 15 points, including increasing public parking near the ocean and providing more substance on affordable housing. In turn, developers also offered alternatives to their plans to help ease concerns from the public and commissioners.

On Tuesday, commissioners were presented with alternatives to the original plans, including a view-enhancement plan where the heights of three buildings near Makena Alanui Road were reduced. This also included four units in one of the buildings be dedicated to affordable workforce housing.

Another alternative presented proposing having the larger buildings planned for near Makena Alanui Road moved closer to the oceanside of the property and having shorter buildings originally aimed for the oceanside of the property moved more toward the road.

Testifiers, mainly residents in the area, did not like that they and beachgoers would turn around to see tall buildings as they looked mauka.

The commission voted to recommend that the view-enhancement plan be the one the developers would pursue.

Discovery Land Co. partner Ed Divita said after the meeting that, assuming the SMA is granted, the project could begin construction later this year.

Forty-two people testified during Tuesday’s meeting, with 23 opposed or at least wanting the project to go through an EIS. Sierra Club Maui also submitted a petition containing 1,530 signatures from people wanting the project to go through a full EIS.

Discovery Land Co. officials also had supporters at the meeting who, in the interest of time, submitted letters instead of testifying.

Longtime Makena resident Edward Chang, one of several area residents to testify Tuesday, said that he remembers when there was only a dirt road to Makena and when residents needed to put burlap bags on the spouts of their faucets to catch the filth that was in the water. He had only about 12 neighbors many years ago.

“What was there before (Makena) has been improved due to development,” he said. Now there are “good roads” and even cable television, he told the commission.

At first, Chang had some “pet peeves” of the new project as he was concerned about drainage in the area. “I got that settled,” he said noting that the developers said they would do better than the first developers in the area.

Chang said he was one of the Makena residents who attended the meetings with the developers and was part of two community groups who worked with developers on the project.

“They were quite thorough,” he said of the developers.

But those opposed to the project and those wanting an EIS were concerned about view plains and possible damage to cultural areas. Others said that affordable homes are needed for working people and not more homes for off-island, part-time residents and visitors.

Kihei resident Sue Caballero took offense that more development would be tailored to the “rich” and not to Maui residents. She said that her rent is increasing from $800 to $1,200 a month.

“I just don’t understand, all the development we are doing for the rich. What about the working-class people?” she asked. She said that people come to Maui for its beauty.

“(Oahu) has been devastated by hotels, we are doing the same thing here. You folks have the right for speaking for us to do what is right. What is right is not building a community none of us (nor) any of you can live in.”

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