Land use change for Makila Kai project in trouble

Most of nearly 30 who testified at the meeting opposed the housing development

WAILUKU — A 49-unit housing project in Launiupoko, containing a mix of residential workforce housing and market-rate agricultural lots, was essentially halted Wednesday. A Maui County Council committee recommended filing a bill that would have allowed for the subdivision and build-out of the workforce units on half-acre lots.

Makila Kai had sought a district boundary amendment from agriculture to rural in the state land use district for the nearly 15-acre affordable housing project site. The state land use district decision was left to the County Council because the reclassification is under 15 acres.

Council approval was among the last major hurdles for Makila Kai. The entire project was to be developed on nearly 80 acres, which would contain 25 residential workforce housing units on half-acre lots and 24 market-rate agricultural lots on 1.5 to 2 acres. The site is mauka of Honoapiilani Highway and the Lahaina bypass corridor.

The workforce housing would be for individuals and families with annual incomes from 80 to 140 percent of Maui’s median income, or $59,280 to $103,740. Around half of the project’s area would feature a “green-belt” of open space, a park and setback areas, plans show. Workforce housing would be built before or at the same time as market-priced lots, which would have owners build their own homes.

In June, the Maui County Council approved the project with state fast-track housing provisions that exempt affordable housing developments from certain land use and other governmental regulations. In July’s vote, Council Members Elle Cochran and Alika Atay voted no. Council Member Don Guzman was absent and excused.

But on Wednesday, all seven council Land Use Committee members remaining at the all-day meeting voted to recommend filing of the district boundary amendment bill. Absent and excused were Guzman and Riki Hokama.

Around 30 people testified with most opposed to the project. A handful of testifiers said affordable housing is much needed, and the project was unique with its larger lots.

Council members expressed concerns cited by testifiers about impacts to the nearby ocean and reef from septic systems initially proposed for the development, whether there was adequate water supply and impacts on Native Hawaiian families nearby.

While giving the bill a thumbs down, some council members struggled with the decision because it would nix needed affordable housing. They encouraged developer Greg Brown to come back with another proposal after addressing issues the council had and engaging the Native Hawaiian community.

Council Member Stacy Crivello said the issue was a “tough one for me,” knowing that the council advocates for development of affordable housing, but its action in this case would foreclose that opportunity. At the same time, she was concerned for those who have native rights to use the water and land in the area.

Crivello had wanted more time for conversation between Brown and Native Hawaiian families “to see what would come out.”

Council Chairman Mike White pointed out several issues he was concerned about, including the wastewater situation and its seepage into the ground and its proximity to the ocean. He was also concerned that “families of the valley that have not been listened to.”

White said he had wanted to evaluate the environmental issues relating to the initially proposed septic tanks and a new system proposed at Wednesday’s meeting that could treat the wastewater more effectively than the septic system.

Throughout the meeting, White pointed out what he described as something that “doesn’t feel good to me” about how Brown’s project was one of two housing projects being developed in the area, but they were seeking approvals separately.

While county officials said the legality of the issue was vetted and that there are different owners for the three projects, White didn’t like its appearance even while conceding that what is being done was legal.

Makila Kai’s land is part of a larger previous proposal called Makila Rural Community. Plans for that development aimed to develop single-family affordable units and rural residential lots on 271 acres. Developers pulled the plug on that development last year, eventually selling the lots — some of which were sold to Brown.

Following the daylong meeting in Council Chambers, Brown said he wasn’t sure what his plans were going to be.

In response to White’s concerns, Tom Welch, an attorney for Makila Kai, said: “One might say segmentation is an issue.

“It shouldn’t’ be an issue for the first project, if it stands on his own two feet.”

Welch said there could be an “appearance issue,” but people do not understand that Brown is doing this project on his own. “You have to look at this one on its own merit,” he said.

In response to questions from the committee and comments in testimony over concerns about septic systems being used, Brown said he would propose using WaiponoPure. Its website says it can convert wastewater into a clear, odorless liquid.

Brown said that he didn’t initially choose the WaiponoPure option because he didn’t want to add more costs to homebuyers, but with a $50,000 “gift” he would give homebuyers, they could use this toward a $150-a-month maintenance fee for the system.

In regard to the amount of water in the valley, Makila Kai said it will drill wells for agricultural water and will use drinking water from Launiupoko Water Co., which does not use surface water. Developers representatives said there is enough capacity for Makila and surrounding subdivisions to use water from Launiupoko Water Co.

But Keeaumoku Kapu, who lives in the valley near to the Makila Kai project and was called as a resource to answer questions, said the water situation in the area is “maxed out already.” He added that a lot of degradation has already occurred in the valley over the years by others.

“We going to get impacted by this development,” he said.

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