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Grand Wailea plans appear before design board

Suggestions offered for saving chapel, masking parking structure

WAILUKU – Saving parts of Grand Wailea resort’s Seaside Chapel and masking portions of the expanded north parking structure were some of the recommendations made by the Maui County Urban Design Review Board on Tuesday as it reviewed plans for the resort’s proposed property enhancements, which include adding 224 guest rooms.

BRE Iconic GWR Owner LLC is seeking a special management area use permit for the work, which includes removing the chapel to make way for 12 bungalow structures along with expanding the north parking structure from three to five levels, which would add 316 more parking stalls. There would be expansions to its swimming pool facilities, upgrades to its luau lawn, improvements to Spa Grande, adding 30 new beach parking stalls, as well as other landscape, utility and infrastructure improvements.

The project’s architect, Norman Hong, principal-in-charge at G70, said at the meeting Tuesday that the expanded rooms would not increase the current hotel’s height, but rather the rooms would be added to portions of its lower level buildings and not go above the current hotel heights.

The Urban Design Review Board, which is an advisory board, voted to pass along four recommendations to the Maui Planning Commission, which will decide on the SMA permit along with plan development approvals. The plan development approvals are necessary because the property is in a planned development area. No meeting has been scheduled yet before the commission.

The resort would also need administrative approval from the Planning Department, as it would conduct some work in the shoreline setback area.

As for why the enhancements are needed, Jim Petrus, vice president of asset management for BRE Hotels Hawaii, said after Tuesday’s meeting that “the hotel has enjoyed great success. We want to continue to evolve the hotel to ensure that the resort enjoys success for decades to come.”

He was the managing director when the hotel opened in 1991.

BRE Iconic Holdings bought the 776-room luxury hotel for a reported $1.1 billion in April, reportedly the second highest price paid for a hotel in the U.S.

BRE is another name for the New York-based Blackstone Group LP, a private equity firm. The hotel remains under the management company of Waldorf Astoria Management LLC. It is one of the island’s largest hotels by room count.

Board members in their meeting at the Planning Department conference room in Wailuku were particularly interested in how the north parking structure would look from the nearby roadway on Wailea Alanui Drive.

Vice-Chairwoman Brandis Sarich was concerned about the height from the roadway, and member Mikal Torgerson wanted to see more renderings and plans for the structure, since in current renderings the new structure was placed behind the landscaping, so he did not have a good view.

Engineers said currently the parking structure’s lower levels are on a lower grade than Wailea Alanui Drive, so the whole structure is not visible from the roadway. But when its two additional floors are added, the structure would appear about 20 feet high when observing it from the higher road level.

Members recommended painting the structure green or a combination of different shades of green to blend into the landscape, or even a landscape wall along with wood elements to camouflage the building.

For the chapel, members pointed out that many memories were made at the chapel and suggested memorializing it on-site, whether that meant keeping a portion of the chapel or having an interpretive exhibit.

Two other recommendations included considering widening of the beach path fronting the hotel and larger beach parking stalls or larger aisle space for the additional new stalls.

Board member Harry Hecht was concerned about how the additional rooms could result in traffic impacts along South Kihei Road and Piilani Highway.

Civil engineer Glenn Kuwaye, with Wilson Okamoto Corp., said there was a traffic study done for the immediate area, which showed no significant impacts around the resort.

As the civil engineer on the project and not a traffic engineer, he didn’t know if the traffic study examined the two roadways Hecht was concerned about.

Hecht was also concerned about bones previously found on the property.

Karlynn Fukuda, president of Munekiyo Hiraga, the planning and project management consulting firm, said there have been previous burials found and there is an approved archaeological monitoring plan, which was approved by the state Historic Preservation Division.

Fukuda said it is working with the state to confirm that the plan is still acceptable.

Developers have also reached out with cultural practitioners as well.

Jim Kwasnowski of BRE Hotels and Resorts said there are technical challenges with moving the chapel and reconstructing it elsewhere on the property. Thus, plans recommend removing the structure, but Petrus said he understands sentimental reasons to hold on to parts of the structure.

But, there is a possibility that things such as the stained glass windows could be salvaged, said Chip Doyle, the project manager, who is president Group Pacific (Hawaii).

He added that the pews could be salvaged as well, and the top of the chapel where the clock and bell tower are can also be removed and possibly donated.

One testifier, Scott Shapiro, had various concerns, including drainage and shoreline erosion, especially in the bungalow area where low-rise one-story and two-story bungalows would be constructed.

He also asked that hotel officials meet with the Kihei Community Association as well since South Maui residents also frequent the area.

Officials said during Tuesday’s meeting that they have already met with the Wailea Community Association.

Kuwaye said all drainage would be done on site.

Hong added they are aware of the updated shoreline setbacks proposed by Maui County, which takes into account erosion, and that the project is not in those harmful areas.

Frank Tirpak, who has a unit at Ho’olei at Grand Wailea, across from the resort, was pleased that additional work would not impact his views. But he was concerned about the addition of more beach parking, noting that the beach is already crowded.

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

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