Waikapu project gets approval of Land Use panel

Zoning change for Waikapu Country Town development

The nearly 500-acre Waikapu Country Town project has received unanimous approval from the state Land Use Commission for critical changes. A state district boundary amendment allows a change from agricultural to rural for 150 acres and from agricultural to urban for 335 acres for development north and south of the Maui Tropical Plantation.

The commission’s action came Thursday during a videoconference call.

In early December, the commission met for two days at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to hear public comments and testimony from project consultants. Nearly all the comments were favorable to the project that several said revised its development plans in response to community and environmental concerns.

In an interview by phone Tuesday, project developer Mike “Coach” Atherton said he was “very, very pleased” with the project’s progress and said that he received a lot of compliments from commission members.

One of the first things he decided was to do community outreach and do a “full blown” environmental impact statement, he said.

“That way you don’t get challenged by the Sierra Club,” he said.

The commission put a few conditions on the project’s implementation, he said, indicating he had no problem with them.

The specific conditions were not immediately available pending a final written decision and order from the commission, but the developer’s proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law called for implementation of traffic improvements and mitigation, if any, as required by the state Department of Transportation and Maui County.

Those mitigation measures would need to be in accordance with a “no Waiale bypass” analysis, meaning roadway improvements without the planned southward extension of Waiale Road from its existing terminus at Waiko Road to a new intersection with Honoapiilani Highway about a mile south of the highway’s intersection with Waiko Road.

There have long been plans for a Waiale bypass road, but there have been no county appropriations for planning, design or construction. County Budget Director Sandy Baz said Tuesday that it’s “too early” to say whether the roadway extension would be included in Mayor Alan Arakawa’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal.

The mayor’s spending plan for July 1 to June 30, 2019, is not due for submission to the Maui County Council until March 23, he said.

The Waikapu town development has been included in the county’s urban-growth boundaries and received support from the Department of Planning. Project plans call for construction in two five-year phases through 2026.

Atherton said he envisions the development as an “agrihood” — a neighborhood with both housing and agriculture.

Nearly a decade ago, Atherton purchased 2,000 acres straddling Honoapiilani Highway from Wailuku Agribusiness.

Environmentalists supported project plans to put 800 acres in an agricultural preserve, while another 277 acres would be dedicated to diversified agriculture.

Project plans call for 1,000 single-family and 433 multifamily units. Construction will include offices, shops, parks, open spaces, a school and hundreds of acres of agricultural land. The housing total doesn’t include 146 ohana units that would be allowed.

The project will include workforce housing.

A dual water system will tap on-site wells to provide potable and irrigation water. A private wastewater system would treat sewage by using micro-organisms that grow on plant roots, coupled with fine bubble aeration, to decontaminate wastewater and produce irrigation water.

The development’s first construction phase would be the “Village Center,” mauka of Honoapiilani Highway, with 731 residences, an elementary school, a park and 170,000 square feet of commercial areas, including restaurants and retail, and offices, industrial space and government facilities. The second phase would build 848 more homes and 6 acres of parks and open space.

The project’s next step will be to seek a change of zoning and community plan amendments before the Maui Planning Commission and County Council.

Once the project gets county approval, Atherton said the development’s first priorities would be to work on water and sewage lines.

Then, “within a year, we’ll be building,” he said.

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

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