Molokai plan wins council approval

Isle residents concerned with zoning guidelines

Molokai residents are “generally very happy” to finally have an updated community plan after 17 years, but they’re concerned about new zoning guidelines that leave “the door wide open” to development that could be opposed by the community.

Maui County Council members approved the Molokai Island Community Plan on second and final reading last week. Updates to the plan, which was last updated in 2001, called for maintaining Molokai’s rural character and traditional Hawaiian farming and subsistence living while addressing climate change concerns.

“We’re trying to curb unbridled and arbitrary planning that might be appropriate for Maui, but definitely doesn’t fit for Molokai,” said Lori Buchanan, one of the 13 members of Molokai’s Community Plan Advisory Committee, on Tuesday. “Our one-shot deal to try and make our plans known is in the community plan.”

The plan, which began as a single community plan, evolved into an island plan encompassing three communities, according to County Council Planning Committee Chairwoman Kelly King’s “Chair’s 3 Minutes” column published last week in The Maui News. The Molokai Planning Commission added East End and West End policy statements, which were adopted as separate chapters after “much deliberation by the council,” King wrote in her column.

Buchanan, who chairs the Molokai Planning Commission, said she was particularly grateful for the statements because they go “a little further in on the rights and privileges of Native Hawaiians and ahupua’a.” She said the expanded statement did not follow the normal parameters of the county’s Long Range Planning Division, but it was heavily supported and driven by the community.

“It’s going to be a standout community plan within the state because of the extra effort put into explaining the native rights and a whole slew of decision-making processes and cultural processes,” she said. “I think that chapter is almost as big as the plan itself.”

The advisory committee was not supportive, though, of a new zoning table adopted into the plan by the council, Buchanan said. The table was referred to as the “Lanai Island table” because it was largely lifted from Lanai’s community plan and introduced mixed-use zoning, which is not defined, she said.

“We didn’t like that it was not defined and was so broad,” she said. “It definitely leaves the door wide open to the interpretation of the developer at the time when their application goes in.”

Committee members also had concerns over the prioritization and implementation of actions such as scenic views and climate change.

Steve Chaikin, chairman of the Molokai committee, said a major goal for members was to update the plan to be something more than a “book sitting on the shelf.” He said members provided guidelines on implementing actions and timeframes on progress.

“We figured out what needed to be done and what was most important,” he said. “Part of that process was trying to get some kind of rating system. There’s a zillion items we’d like to get done, but we have to prioritize which ones were important.”

The economic goal for the island is for a stable, balanced, diversified and sustainable economy, respecting cultural and natural resources, that is compatible with Molokai’s rural island lifestyle. Policies include supporting diversification, improvements in education training programs and redevelopment projects such as the Kaluako’i Hotel and Golf Course as well as the reopening of the Molokai Ranch Lodge.

Policies for public facilities and services included supporting a systematic approach to planning and improving the island’s parks, facilities and recreation programs. The plan also called for requiring the dedication of land and development of usable park sites as part of the approval of development of new residential and mixed-use areas.

Infrastructure policies include the expansion of mobile cellular networks, high-speed internet services and encouraging residents to work from home. Other policies called for expanding air services to the island, encouraging rapid and cost-effective transport of agricultural products from Molokai to neighbor islands and explore options for a direct barge service or a passenger ferry that can carry goods from Molokai to Maui.

Molokai’s resident population expects to surpass 9,000 by year 2035, with daily visitor numbers still below 1,000, according to the plan. In 1990, the ratio of tourists to residents was about 1 to 7, and by 2010, the ratio dropped to 1 visitor for every 12 residents.

While Buchanan did not support everything in the updated plan, she acknowledged that the process was “so complex and difficult,” and thanked the council and Planning Department for their work.

“I was really happy about Kelly King’s leadership over the land use because she showed interest and constraint that I didn’t see in prior planning processes,” Buchanan said. “I also was always critical of Long Range Planning having been involved with them (for years), but it’s so difficult. It’s a big heavy work to do and in the end our plan will set precedent in a way where the communities take leadership.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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