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Grand Wailea’s $91.5M expansion hits opposition

Residents cite concerns over burials, growing tourism, sea level rise

Grand Wailea Maui guests escape the heat in the resort’s Hibiscus Pool in March 2018. The pool is among the many features up for renovations in the resort’s latest expansion plans. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — Citing overwhelming tourism concerns and further desecration of iwi kupuna, Maui residents spoke out Tuesday against expansion plans that would turn the Grand Wailea Maui into the second-largest hotel on the island.

The resort’s plans are awaiting a decision by the Maui Planning Commission. The panel had to defer the item after it lost quorum late Tuesday afternoon, but not before hearing from several testifiers who were critical of the project.

“I cannot with a clear mind be OK with more digging in the area,” said Cody Nemet Tuivaiti, a lifelong Kihei resident who was concerned about disturbing burials. “It is fine if improvements are to be made, but not at the expense of ripping open the wounds that are still to heal.”

The sprawling 776-room resort on 36.6 acres along Wailea Alanui Drive is looking to add 224 more guest rooms — 72 in the Haleakala Wing, 63 in the Wailea Wing, 41 in the Lagoon Wing, eight in the Chapel Wing and up to 40 bungalow units, 12 of which would feature kitchens, according to Planning Department documents.

The project calls for the construction of a new spa pool at Spa Grande; addition of a new lap pool next to the Wailea Wing; addition of a new family pool next to the Lagoon Wing; expansion of the north parking garage from three to five levels to provide for 316 more parking stalls; and removal of the Seaside Chapel.

Wailuku resident Noelani Ahia opposes the expansion of the Grand Wailea Maui during a Maui Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. The resort is proposing to add 224 rooms that would make it the second-largest hotel on Maui. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

It also would include facade renovations and construction of a new grand stairway in the Napua Tower; renovations to the existing Hibiscus Pool and deck area; improvements to the existing luau area; and the addition of 30 public beach parking stalls adjacent to the Wailea Beach right of way.

To make way for the 224 additional rooms, the resort would have to build a new seven-floor Wailea Mauka Wing adjacent to the existing Wailea Wing, construct the bungalow units near the former chapel site and add two-story extensions to both the Chapel and Lagoon wings. Next to the Lagoon wing, the resort also would build a new addition consisting of a two-story and three-story wing. Alongside the Haleakala Wing, the resort would construct a new guest wing with one six-story section and another four-story section.

The project is estimated to cost $91.5 million and take about five years, with the resort still open in the meantime. It would be one of the resort’s most expensive renovations in recent years; it also launched a $50 million renovation in 2008 and a $30 million renovation in 2014.

The Grand Wailea was developed in 1991 by Japanese billionaire Takeshi Sekiguchi at a cost of $600 million. In April 2012, the Maui Planning Commission granted approval for the resort to add 300 guest rooms, but construction of the project never began, and the approvals expired in April 2015. The resort has changed hands over the years but was most recently sold to BRE Iconic Holdings in April 2018 for $1.1 billion. The new owners say the expansion and improvements are needed to keep up with visitor demand and to upgrade the quality of the facilities.

In February, the Grand Wailea also got a special management area use permit exemption to convert existing interior spaces to nine guest units. If the 224 rooms also are approved, the resort would end up with 1,009 total units, making it the second-largest on Maui after the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas’ 1,021 units, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority data.

Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, speaks Tuesday in support of the Grand Wailea’s expansion plans. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Wailuku resident Noelani Ahia said Tuesday that the hotel is on the site of ancient burials and should never have been built. Archaeological monitoring on the property from 1987 to 1991 revealed burial sites with 199 to 219 individuals who were later reinterred north of the Wailea Wing, according to Planning Department documents.

“So how you gonna sell that to the tourists?” Ahia said. “Welcome to our ancient burial ground where you can have mai tais with the disturbed spirits of my ancestors.”

Meanwhile, Kula resident Dick Mayer said that Maui already has exceeded the 3-to-1 resident-to-visitor ratio recommended by the Maui Island Plan. Last year, the average daily visitor population was about 40 percent of the resident population, according to the state’s latest population estimates and Hawaii Tourism Authority data.

“We do not need any more hotel rooms on this island; we need to control it,” Mayer said.

Kihei resident Scott Shapiro also was concerned about sea-level rise. He said that when the commission approved the resort’s initial plans to add 300 rooms in 2012, the economy was just coming out of a recession, and construction jobs were welcome. But now “it’s a new era,” Shapiro said, and Maui needs to start planning for the impacts of sea-level rise on shoreline properties.

Testifiers who supported the project included Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association. Paulson said that the Grand Wailea is nearly 30 years old, “and compared to newer and recently renovated properties, it is due for a refresh in order to meet the standards of our Wailea guests.”

“The additional bungalow units and larger suites that will accommodate larger families wanting to stay together is a positive alternative to the prolific illegal vacation rental homes we now see on Maui that host these types of traveler,” Paulson said.

She added that the county currently provides coach buses for South and West Maui employees, and that the association is working with the county to increase ridership and offer additional pick-up locations and times.

Bruce U’u, who represents the Maui Chapter of the Hawaii Carpenters Union, said he supported the project so long as it went through “the due diligence” and treated any iwi with respect. He said he preferred building in hotel-zoned areas over letting tourism leak into residential neighborhoods.

“I like tourism where it is — there,” said U’u, who lives in Paia. “If you take them out of my neighborhood, better.”

Others said they supported the plans but asked the resort to keep the chapel.

The commission will take up the item again on June 25.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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