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Maui County Council rejects workforce housing projects in West Maui

Members continue to have concerns over Launiupoko housing with 96 affordable units

Tasha Kama

WAILUKU — The Maui County Council on Friday voted down two workforce housing projects in Launiupoko, citing issues with the length of affordability requirements, water, land titles and the state fast-track approval process adopted by the developer.

Members voted 6-3 to disapprove both the Polanui Gardens and Makila Rural-East projects, which combined would have provided 96 workforce units and 61 market-rate units in an area above the Lahaina bypass.

The affordable lots were targeted to those earning between 80 percent ($67,040) and 140 percent ($117,320) of the area median income. The workforce units would have remained affordable for 10 years, then be allowed to become market rate.

Voting down the project were council Chairwoman Kelly King and members Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Riki Hokama, Tamara Paltin, Mike Molina and Shane Sinenci. Tasha Kama, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Alice Lee were on the losing side.

The council had until today to disapprove the project or it would have been approved automatically under the 201H fast-track process. The council had 45 days from the time the project was submitted to make a decision.

The council Affordable Housing Committee recommended July 3 that the full council disapprove the projects in a slim 4-3 tally. None of the members changed their votes Friday with King and Paltin, nonmembers of the committee, joining the winning side.

The vote ends hours of testimony by both supporters and detractors of the affordable housing projects. Backers touted the possibility of homeownership for island workers — in a market with median home prices in the $700,000 to $800,000 range — and keeping young residents home. Those opposed to the project wanted longer periods of affordability and questioned the title to the land, availability of water, traffic and fire safety.

“I want to see the lower income addressed. I want to see longer periods of affordability,” said King.

She said that people earning below 80 percent of the area median income needed the most help and that homes should remain affordable for 30 years, especially if the projects undergo the state’s fast-track approval process, which saves the developer money.

Paltin said she understands as a policymaker that there is a serious housing crisis but that “it’s our responsibility to look at the big picture.” Homes staying affordable for only five to 10 years will not solve the problem.

“I feel this solution put before us is not a real solution,” she said.

Sugimura thanked developer Peter Martin, who was behind the two developments. She praised him for having the courage to move the projects through the process and putting up the financing.

“I believe these two projects would have provided a wonderful place for working families to have the opportunity to live in a place like Launiupoko that would not be afforded to them if we did not do these affordable projects,” she said.

Lee said: “I’m actually deeply disappointed that many of the testifiers that came to the last meeting sincerely pleading with us to give them a chance to at least be some of the new homeowners in this project.”

She said people “want to live where they work.”

Housing committee Chairwoman Kama read a testifier’s testimony in support of the project. It touched upon the need for affordable housing and residents moving to the Mainland because they cannot find housing on Maui.

The testifier pointed to claims of a fire hazard, citing last August’s massive wildfire that destroyed more than a dozen homes, yet those opposed to the project continue to live in Launiupoko.

“I always think about . . . ‘Don’t tell me no can, help me, how can.’ That has always been my mantra.

“If can’t, let’s work on how we can.”

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

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