Fast-track housing projects come under fire

Residents say Launiupoko is not a good location for projects

Committee Chairwoman Tasha Kama reads from a code of conduct after an outburst in Council Chambers on Wednesday.

WAILUKU – Residents opposed to a pair of workforce-and-market-rate housing projects in Launiupoko sent a clear message on Wednesday — we need housing, but not here.

About 50 people came to testify before the Maui County Council’s Affordable Housing Committee, most in opposition due to the shortage of water, the risk of fires and the lack of walking and public transit options to schools and jobs. Others, meanwhile, worried that if the land was not developed into affordable housing, it would simply become more populated with gentlemen estates.

The committee recessed the meeting late Wednesday evening after nearly six hours of at-times heated public testimony, including one shouting match between two Lahaina residents that forced the clearing of Council Chambers briefly. The meeting will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The projects — which would combine for 96 workforce and 61 market-rate homes — are being proposed by two different entities associated with developer Peter Martin.

Kipa Centennial, of which Martin is managing partner, is proposing the Polanui Gardens project, which would provide 50 affordable single-family lots with a minimum 10,000-square-foot lot size for residents earning from 80 percent ($67,040) to 140 percent ($117,320) of the area median income. The 48.9-acre development in Launiupoko also calls for a 4.5-acre community park, a 1-acre community garden and 16 market-priced agricultural lots with a minimum 1-acre lot size. A 9.6-acre agricultural use easement would provide a farming area and buffer along the Lahaina bypass.

Residents wanting to testify before the Maui County Council’s Affordable Housing Committee wait outside Council Chambers on Wednesday afternoon. Council staff had to clear the chambers after a shouting match broke out during testimony on a pair of controversial workforce housing projects.

Meanwhile, Hope Builders, which Martin owns, is proposing the Makila Rural-East project, which would offer 46 affordable single-family lots, also with a minimum 10,000-square-foot lot size and also for residents earning between 80 percent to 140 percent area median income. The 97.6-acre development also would include four live/work units and a neighborhood store on 20,000 square feet of land, a 2-acre community park and 45 market-priced agricultural lots with a minimum 1-acre lot size.

Kipa Centennial and Hope Builders are looking to fast-track both projects and also are requesting district boundary amendments from agricultural to urban.

Longtime farmers and residents in the Launiupoko area spoke out against the projects, saying the water supply in the area cannot sustain two large housing developments.

Members of the Palakiko family, who live and farm in nearby Kauaula Valley, said they’ve “continued to battle” with decreasing resources and increasing development. They said water levels have been low in the streams, killing their kalo patches and marine life, and that West Maui Land Co. — which Martin founded with business partner Jim Riley — has not been cooperative.

“When our river went dry, no action, nobody called us and said ‘a pipe burst at the siphon,’ or ‘we’re cleaning the reservoir,’ ” Ku’ulei Palakiko said. “And so I just want to remind you, just look at the past actions of these development entities, and then decide if we want to put our trust in these entities.”

As the state works to halt diversions and return water to streams, farmers said they’re having to use potable water to feed their crops. One of them is Steve Hire, who lives about 16 acres up the road from the proposed projects. Hire grows fruit and citrus trees but recently had to cut down 14 trees to use less water for irrigation. He and other Launiupoko residents said when they bought their homes, they were told that water wasn’t a problem.

“It is a way for a few people to get rich by pulling the wool over your eyes by offering you the carrot of affordable housing,” Hire said of the proposed projects. “Don’t fall for it. The developers will build and move on, leaving you and the community holding the bag.”

Residents said they wanted housing but that it should be located in areas with better infrastructure and easier access to schools, hospitals and commerce centers. Many recounted the terror of having to evacuate their homes during last summer’s massive brush fire, and said that the traffic, safety risks and difficult access made it a poor location for a housing project. They pointed out that the same reasons sank the proposed 49-unit Makila Kai project in Launiupoko in 2017.

But other testifiers wondered why residents stayed there if the area was so terrible for housing. They said that building homes in West Maui could help reduce commutes on the pali and cut down the traffic problem that residents worried about.

Some, like Ivan Lay, objected to suggestions that housing should be put in Central Maui instead.

“Don’t tell me where we should live,” Lay said. “Affordable housing should be made available throughout the island.”

Testifier Bruce U’u of the Maui Chapter of the Hawaii Carpenters Union said that fires were a risk that residents could work to mitigate and adapt to, just as north shore residents like him deal with the risk of tsunami. He and others argued that stopping the projects won’t stop development in the area; gentlemen estates would simply continue to proliferate one by one and prevent everyday workers from ever affording a home on the hillside.

“The question is, do we accept the affordable part . . . or accept the gentlemen estates?” U’u said. “I (am) for fire (protection), water, sewer — we gotta malama everything. . . . But it’s going to be built up whether they do this project or sell it to the people who live there part time. It’s the same case. It’s still going to be people living up there.”

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