‘Megamall’ may be in the past but resistance to smaller project lingers

State Land use commission draws a crowd

The state Land Use Commission listens to testimony from Kihei resident Vernon Kalanikau at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Wednesday afternoon in Kahului. The commission was taking testimony during a public hearing on whether to accept the project’s environmental impact statement. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — State Land Use Commission members heard from more than three dozen testifiers Wednesday afternoon, and testimony ran roughly 3-to-1 against approving the Pi’lani Promenade’s final environmental impact statement.

Albert Perez, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said he has reviewed many project environmental impact statements, and “I have never seen one that is so large with so little useful content. Rather than describing impacts, it is largely a self-serving recitation of the benefits of the project.”

And that is specifically prohibited by Hawaii law, which says such a study should not be “merely a self-serving recitation of benefits and a rationalization of the proposed action,” he said, quoting the state law.

His testimony was an example of the opposition that persists for the proposed 75-acre north Kihei development, formerly called the “megamall” project, though now downsized to 226 apartment units, 58,000 square feet of light industrial space and retail, office and business/commercial development limited to 530,000 square feet. The project would be located mauka of the intersection of Kaonoulu Road and Piilani Highway, and it would border Kulanihakoi Gulch on its southern side.

The project had its supporters, though. At least 16 men attended Wednesday’s hearing wearing baseball caps saying, “I SUPPORT JOBS & HOUSING. I Support Pi’ilani Promenade,” but most didn’t testify.

Cody Nemet Tuivaiti, a member of the Kula Kai Aha Moku Council, spoke out against the Pi‘ilani Promenade project, saying its environmental impact statement felt “incomplete and force fed.” • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Members of the Kihei Community Association wore T-shirts that said, “Build Housing Not Malls.”

The commission recessed after nearly three hours of testimony. The panel is scheduled to return at 8:30 a.m. today to hear a project presentation by developer Sarofim Realty Advisors of Dallas. The commission will reconvene in the Morgado meeting room on the second floor of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Much of the opposition stemmed from testifiers who said the project’s environmental impact statement didn’t adequately or completely address drainage, traffic, environmental or Native Hawaiian cultural issues. Project supporters said it would provide much-needed housing, jobs and more conveniently located shopping options for South Maui residents.

Kihei resident Ronald Vaught said former project plans were rejected “and rightly so,” but “now this developer has brought the plan back into focus. They’re going to bring an excellent selection of commercial and industrial businesses, and I welcome them into my neighborhood.”

Vaught added that: “I have read this EIS, (and) I see that much work has gone into it and strongly believe it to protect me and my neighbors.”

Kihei Community Association President Mike Moran said the nonprofit community group opposes the project in its current configuration. He pointed out that the Kihei-Makena Community Plan was designed to “prevent further sprawl and concentrate commercial activities makai of Piilani Highway.” And, the proposed Pi’ilani Promenade site is not among commercial sites approved by that plan, he said.

“Our community needs affordable housing, like the 100 percent affordable rental housing directly across from this site . . . not a huge, unneeded commercial entity with a smattering of such housing,” Moran said.

North Kihei resident and commercial real estate broker Mario Cardone said he had opposed the former larger commercial project proposed by former developer Eclipse Development Group.

“I did not believe that the scale and type of retail that was previously proposed was appropriate,” he said. “However, I would like to see Pi’ilani Promenade’s EIS accepted by the Land Use Commission, to give this project the chance it deserves to provide the community-based industrial, apartment and commercial uses it is promising.”

Cardone said commercial space in South Maui is “very much needed,” with parcels in the Piilani Business Park and Kihei Commercial Center subdivisions already developed. The vacancy rate for industrial space islandwide is less than 1 percent, he said.

He was contradicted by a number of other testifiers, including Haiku resident Mark Sheehan, who talked about nearly empty “ghost malls.”

Kihei resident Gary Passon, a member of the Kihei Community Association, said the project’s economic models for the need for more than 500,000 square feet of big box commercial retail space in Kihei have not been adjusted to “accurately reflect the changing retail landscape nor the specific economic and social environment in Kihei.”

With underused retail space along South Kihei Road and the Downtown Kihei project coming online soon, “the megamall will significantly upset the economic balance in the community by unnecessarily increasing the available space by a significant amount,” he said.

Chantal Dugied Lonergan, representing the Construction Industry of Maui, a trade organization of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, said she represented 1,530 working-class residents who support the project.

“When clear requirements are communicated, quality projects can be developed to meet our community expectations and make an overall positive impact on our quality of life,” she said.

Rod Weltman, another member of the Kihei Community Association, said that while the South Maui community plan calls for reducing traffic on Piilani Highway, the Pi’ilani Promenade project would increase traffic by drawing customers from other parts of the island to the area.

“The population of South Maui is not sufficient to support all the retail space already available,” he said. “North Piilani Highway is a choke point for all traffic into and out of South Maui.”

The level of traffic congestion already is at unacceptable levels at times at seven intersections, including some that would receive more vehicles from the Pi’ilani Promenade project, Weltman said.

Cody Nemet Tuivaiti, a member of the Kula Kai Aha Moku Council, said the project’s environmental impact statement “feels incomplete and force fed.”

The project’s planning fails to recognize the true extent of flooding problems, reef damage and “what a massive culvert system would do to amplify it.”

And, he took offense with project cultural advisers who surveyed the development area but found nothing of significance.

“Really?” he asked. “I have no degree but know that the slope from Kula down to Kula makai was instrumental in judging weather patterns, land navigation and reading the stones, not to mention all the rock structures we came across. But ‘no significance?’ That makes me sad that one is willing to kill the seed of opportunity for our now and tomorrow generations.”

Fisherman Basil Oshiro said the project’s final environmental study is incomplete because, among other reasons, the development’s planned altered drainage and grading plan “will damage or affect the cultural sites in the construction area.”

“The Kaonoulu gulch is a natural drainage, and there are cultural sites in it,” he said.

Kihei resident Tom Blackburn-Rodrigues, a consultant for the Pi’ilani Promenade project, presented the commission with signed postcards from 183 individuals “who support the Pi’ilani Promenade with its 226 rental apartments and jobs but were unable to attend this meeting due to work or family obligations.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.


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