Senior housing project clears a hurdle

A curved path shows a former go-kart track Tuesday afternoon at South Kane St. in Kahului. Located between the Kahului Public Library and the Sears end of the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center, the 3.8-acre property has been unoccupied for years, except by homeless people. The Maui Planning Commission granted a special management area use permit for Catholic Charities Housing Development Corp. to develop a 164-unit, low-income senior housing project on the parcel. The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo

WAILUKU — The Maui Planning Commission granted a special management area use permit Tuesday for a 164-unit affordable senior housing project near the Foodland Ka’ahumanu store and the Kahului Public Library.

Panel members voted 7-0 to grant the permit for the Kahului Lani project proposed by Catholic Charities Housing Development Corp. The almost $47.8 million project will be located on a nearly 4-acre lot bordered by Kane, Vevau and School streets.

Plans call for constructing two, six-story multifamily residential buildings and a two-story, 7,500-square-foot multipurpose building, 260 parking stalls on pavement and grass and other improvements.

Commissioners supported the project, although some expressed concerns over drainage and the safety of senior citizens trying to cross busy Kane Street.

Commission member Lawrence Carnicelli said the project is “infill” and “everything we would want,” but like fellow commission member Keaka Robinson, he was concerned about the drainage in the low-lying area.

But Carnicelli noted there would be a floodwater retention basin on the property and other mitigating factors to ease his concerns. He called it a “great project.”

Robinson expressed concern about drainage and the safety of senior citizens who’d cross Kane Street to shop at Foodland.

“I see the trucks that go back and forth, and it’s a concern,” he said.

Department of Public Works Deputy Director Rowena Dagdag-Andaya said her department would look for ways to improve pedestrian safety in the area.

Some of the commissioners’ suggestions included more lighting and, possibly, a blinking crosswalk light.

There also were concerns about the condition of narrow surrounding streets. Project consultants said streets adjacent to the property would be improved with wider roads, new curbs and gutters. Vevau Street would be upgraded and dedicated to the county.

Because the project is near the coastline and in the special management area, commission member Larry Hudson saw flooding as a threat and asked whether seniors could be evacuated if necessary.

Consultants said the area is in flood zone X, which is outside the flood-inundation area. Evacuation plans for residents would be done, they said.

The units would be available for rent to seniors 55 years and older and those earning 30, 50 and 60 percent of the area median income.

Based on 2017 federal Department of Housing and Urban Development income limits and proposed gross rents, a senior earning 30 percent of the area median income, or $18,090 annually, would pay up to $484 a month in rent. A senior earning 50 percent of the area median income, or $30,150, would pay $807 a month; and those earning 60 percent, or $36,180, would pay $969 a month.

Thelma Akita-Kealoha, Maui Community Office director of Catholic Charities Hawaii, said utilities would be included in the rent, “which is a big plus for our seniors.”

She added that the rentals would be affordable for at least 60 years and, if Catholic Charities remained involved, it would keep the units affordable in perpetuity.

The project has financing for its first phase, which is 81 units along with a manger’s unit.

Akita-Kealoha said other places that have offered affordable rentals for seniors have had hundreds of people on waiting lists.

“There is a need,” she said.

Catholic Charities plans to provide case management support for residents.

Funding is coming from the government with some equity from Catholic Charities itself, consultants said.

Consultants did not give an exact time frame for the project, but plans show construction is expected to take around 32 months after building and other permits are obtained.

Several senior citizens, some whom were homeless at one point, testified in favor of the project.

Sandra Aki said she is struggling to pay her rent at Hale Makana O Wainee in Wailuku since her husband died last year.

“There are so many other widows living in Hale Makana who are struggling to pay their rent. We don’t have and are in need of affordable housing,” she told commissioners.

Aki said she had been homeless before living at Hale Makana.

“The Kahului Lani project is an answer to our prayers, to those of us seniors (whose income) lies between the 30 to 60 area median income range,” she said.

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez of Go Maui said everyone talks about the problem with affordable housing, but it’s “not a problem; it is a crisis.”

Go Maui is a nonpartisan organization that engages and represents residents on key initiatives and issues that affect Maui’s quality of life, its website said.

Blackburn-Rodriguez said the affordable housing problem “cannot be put out by spitballs and good intentions,” as he compared it to a wildfire. “But it is a step forward. It is a small step, but a necessary step.”

A&B Properties had envisioned a commercial mixed-use project for the site, but it is no longer pursing that plan, a spokesman said in July. The parcel is owned by A&B Kane LLC and managed by A&B Properties Hawaii. Catholic Charities is in the process of obtaining the site, planning documents show.

A&B will not be involved with the project once it is sold, the company has said.

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