Molokai residents get chance to weigh in

King to hold talk story session on priorities for community plan

Building a new police station in Kaunakakai, capping vacation rentals on Molokai’s east end and finding ways to ease tax burdens on kuleana land owners are just some of the goals for Molokai as the island’s updated community plan nears completion.

Residents will get a chance to discuss which of the many projects and proposals in the plan should take priority when Maui County Council Member Kelly King, who chairs the council’s Planning Committee, holds a talk story on Molokai from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Mitchell Pauole Center.

“I think this will give more guidance to the county as to what the actual priorities of the citizens of Molokai are,” King said Monday. “This plan is supposed to be for 20 years. . . . What are we going to do in the first five years?”

Lanai and Molokai are the first communities in Maui County to see their plans updated. The plans are supposed to be updated every 10 years, but the review process is tedious, and many are behind schedule. Molokai’s plan has already passed through the 13-member Community Plan Advisory Committee and the nine-member Molokai Planning Commission. It was handed off to the council in May 2016, but the council extended the deadline from May 4 to the end of this year.

A new police station is among the nine capital improvement projects in the draft plan. The current station is listed as a top priority project because it’s located in a special flood hazard area and tsunami evacuation zone and often requires police cars to drive through congested areas around schools, parks and businesses in Kaunakakai. The draft plan calls for planning to start next year.

A gym that would replace the aging one in Kaunakakai and provide a reliable civil defense shelter is also listed as a top priority project to begin planning in 2020. It’s estimated to cost $35 million in county and state funds.

“One thing this department is emphasizing with the new plans, and which is very different than in the past, is fiscal reality,” Planning Director Will Spence said Tuesday. “With the old plans, virtually any good idea for a project or program got included, regardless of the county’s ability to pay. . . . This go-round we are looking at how much money has been budgeted in the past, so we have a pretty rough idea of what could be budgeted in the future.”

Concerns with flooding and sea-level rise are driving several projects. Council Member Stacy Crivello, who holds the Molokai residency seat, said that facilities in low-lying Kaunakakai need to be moved “soon,” but because most lands mauka are privately owned, the timing will depend on when businesses and landowners are ready.

Places like the Kapa’akea Cemetery in Kaunakakai and the Puko’o Fire Station in the east end also are located in flood zones and need to be relocated, Crivello said. Culverts on county roads need to be rebuilt to meet 100-year flood standards, and the Kaunakakai drainage system should be completed next year, according to the plan.

Rob Stephenson, a former member of the Community Plan Advisory Committee and current chairman of the Molokai Planning Commission, said one of the priorities for the island is “being able to balance economic development with maintaining our rural lifestyle.”

“I think one of the biggest indicators of the overall health of the community is jobs,” said Stephenson, who’s also president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce. “Without that, all of the other projects seem to pale in comparison. Many of the projects that have been proposed could have an impact on creating jobs, not only for the projects but for their continued operation. So it’s working together as a community to find the right balance.”

One growing issue on Molokai is that of short-term rentals, said Lori Buchanan, another former member of the committee who currently serves on the commission. The draft of the Molokai community plan currently proposes a cap of one transient vacation rental and five short-term rental homes for the east end.

“The hot topic here is the encroachment of short-term rental homes in an area where the community has fought it for years,” said Buchanan, who’s also coordinator for the Molokai Invasive Species Committee. “The priority is to keep east Molokai as a rural community and not have any commercialization at all.”

When the council passed an ordinance allowing short-term rentals in 2012, no cap was set for Molokai. Crivello proposed a 40-rental cap that the council approved in April. But, on Aug. 9, the Molokai Planning Commission cut the cap to zero. Buchanan said that short-term rentals in Pukoo are drawing kayakers and kite surfers to an area that many fishermen rely on for subsistence.

King said she hopes to return to Molokai with the full council Planning Committee sometime in September and wants to get the plan passed before the holiday season.

“My goal is to be finished with it and out of committee either by the end of September or middle of October,” King said.

That would be followed by readings at the full council level.

The Molokai plan also will come before the next Planning Committee meeting, which will take place at 9 a.m. Tuesday in council chambers.

To view the full draft plan, visit mauicounty.us/king. Under the “Quick Links” heading, click on “Molokai Community Plan Update,” then “June 30, 2017 draft bill and Exhibit 1.” A chart of proposed projects and goals begins on page 173.

For more information on the talk story, contact executive assistant Michelle Del Rosario at 270-7108 or michelle.delrosario@mauicounty.us. Testimony can be emailed to pc.committee@mauicounty.us.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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