Residents are still unhappy with Piilani Promenade plans
Developer offers ‘snapshot’ of project at community meeting
KIHEI — South Maui residents aren’t sold on the new-look Piilani Promenade, an 88-acre development in north Kihei that is trying to scale down and shake its reputation as the former “megamalls” project.
Developers presented the latest plans for the site to about 50 people Monday night. The new proposal calls for 500 affordable and market-rate apartments spread out across 18, two- to three-story buildings, as well as a 250-unit senior living facility. It also includes a 50,000-square-foot grocery store, 50,000 square feet for light industrial use and a 40,000-square-foot, two-story medical building.
The site is located mauka of the intersection of Kaonoulu Road and Piilani Highway.
“It’s not, again, a conclusion. It’s a snapshot of where we’re at,” said Harry Lake, chief executive officer of Koa Partners, the Dallas-based firm that is doing community outreach for the developers, Piilani Promenade North and South. “We’re sincerely seeking some feedback on how we can deliver something that responds to the community.”
But residents at the meeting said it wasn’t something they wanted at all.
“How are you serving us by putting this mega-block of cement, overcrowding an already small beach community?” Kihei resident Gylian Solay asked. “We want to stay that way. We don’t need mega-properties, megamalls.”
In July 2017, the state Land Use Commission unanimously rejected the final environmental impact statement for Piilani Promenade, which had included 226 apartment units, 58,000 square feet of light industrial space and retail, office and business/commercial development limited to 530,000 square feet.
After the decision, developers decided to return plans to something in “substantial compliance” with what was originally approved in 1995. Lake said Koa Partners has been holding meetings within the community since January to get a feel for what people want to see in the project.
Lake said community members asked for something that would reduce drive time, increase walkability, provide affordable housing, increase medical access and create a mixture of generations. They also said they wanted less retail space.
“We dialed down the amount of retail on this site from before,” Lake said. “This is more supportive retail for the areas mauka of Piilani (Highway). . . . You’re going to have a new high school right next door. It made sense to have some supportive retail for the students there and the staff. We’re not trying to be a regional retail center. It’s just more speaking to the local community.”
Piilani Promenade has changed hands and morphed over the years in response to community outcry. The original development goes back to 1995, when Kaonoulu Ranch proposed plans for a 123-lot commercial and light industrial subdivision, according to state Land Use Commission documents. In February 1995, the commission reclassified the property from agricultural to urban.
In May 2005, the property was sold to Maui Industrial Partners, which later sold about 13 acres to Honua’ula Partners in 2009 and the other 75 acres to Piilani Promenade North and Piilani Promenade South in 2010.
Piilani Promenade North and South is owned by Texas-based landowner Sarofim Realty Advisors. In 2011, Sarofim hired Eclipse Development to draw up plans for 695,000 square feet of retail space spread out across two major commercial areas. The controversial plan became known as the “megamalls” and was challenged by Maui Tomorrow Foundation, South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth and Kihei resident Daniel Kanahele. In 2013, the commission ruled that the mall proposal failed to meet conditions set in 1995.
Sarofim parted ways with Eclipse Development and presented a scaled-back version of the project that the commission voted down in 2017. Commissioners said more studies needed to be done on the project’s overall impacts to South Maui, including traffic and cultural concerns.
On Monday night, Ke’eaumoku Kapu, a lineal descendant of the area and chief executive officer of Aha Moku O Maui Inc., said that “a lot of work got to be done yet.”
“You cannot just come over here in the community and say, ‘This is what we going do, this is how our thing going look like,’ ” Kapu said. “But I like know what’s underground. . . . It’s good that we listening to this project over here, but our biggest concern is how you guys can even put anything down on a plan when you never address the specific area itself.”
Kapu said he wanted developers to better investigate historic sites in the area before building such an “intrusive” project.
Cody Nemet Tuivaiti, a member of the Kula Kai Aha Moku Council, said he felt that “community concerns have overlooked cultural concerns and environmental concerns for a long, long time.”
“A lot of people don’t know about Land Commission awards, don’t know about the history, the connection that kanaka have had in these areas,” he said. “Because of that, the research that you guys may be doing, it conflicts things we already know. I think only now we starting for come together at the table.”
Mike Moran, president of the Kihei Community Association, said Tuesday that the association wouldn’t object to housing and a medical facility if that was truly a community need. However, he said that “the first thing we believe you have to do is you have to satisfy the cultural interest.” Moran said the association can’t support the project as it is “because it seems to us that they don’t have the buy-in” from Native Hawaiian families like Kapu’s.
Tina Wildberger, South Maui’s newly elected state representative, described the current project as “inappropriate.” Wildberger, who owns Kihei Ice Inc. in the nearby Kihei Commercial Center, said there are plenty of empty units in her complex and in South Maui in general. She didn’t think more retail space would serve the community.
“With all of the empty retail and light industrial and commercial space, it just doesn’t make sense to continue to add to that,” Wildberger said. “I just don’t think our community can support it. The businesses that are already here are already struggling during low tourism times. I just don’t think economically it makes sense.”
Lake said after the meeting that the current plans are not final and that developers want to “continue the dialogue” with the community, particularly with lineal descendants. He said architects were already working to modify the plans based on feedback from Monday’s meeting. Lake acknowledged that the perception of the former “megamalls” plan still lingers.
“I think what we’re up against is a project that had some history, and to reset that has been part of our challenge,” he said. “We’re excited to do something really special that I think is consistent with what the community’s seeing.”
Lake said developers are hoping to bring a more concrete plan to the commission in December.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.