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Commission wants affordable housing from hotel developers

Members provide comments on draft EIS for Windward Hotel

Shown is a rendering for the 200-unit Windward Hotel proposed for roughly 5 acres near Costco and the Kahului Airport. The Maui Planning Commission reviewed the draft environmental impact statement for the project on Tuesday. Members said they wanted to see developers update the traffic study and build actual affordable housing instead of just buying credits to comply with Maui County’s residential workforce housing policy. R.D. Olson Development graphics

WAILUKU — Updating a study to include traffic from the new Kahului Airport rental car facility and actually building affordable homes instead of buying credits were some of the comments that the Maui Planning Commission will provide on plans for the proposed Windward Hotel in Kahului.

Commissioners came up with around 15 comments at their meeting Tuesday for the hotel’s draft environmental impact statement, which has a 45-day public review and comment period that ends on Nov. 22.

The commission deferred a vote on whether it will be the approving agency for the final EIS. Deputy Corporation Counsel Mike Hopper wanted the department to check with the state Land Use Commission over who should be the approving agency, as the project will still need to appear before the LUC for other land use matters.

The 200-room hotel proposed by California-based R. D. Olson Development would be on a 5-acre site in the Maui Business Park Phase II. The hotel site is at the northeast end of the property, between Lauo Loop and Airport Access Road. The hotel’s buildings would vary from one, two and four stories in height. It would also include a swimming pool, dining area, meeting rooms, business center, barbecue area, sports court and fitness center. Parking would include 227 spaces.

Several commissioners on Tuesday expressed a desire to have developers comply with Maui County’s Residential Workforce Housing policy by developing affordable homes, rather than taking other allowable routes such as paying a fee in lieu of providing workforce housing units.

The county policy requires large developments to provide residential workforce housing units equal to at least 25 percent of the total number of market rate units proposed. Developers can comply with the policy through a number of ways that include paying a fee or providing land.

Commissioner P. Denise La Costa asked the developer representatives if they would fund or build affordable housing.

Project planning consultant Brett Davis of Chris Hart & Partners and Anthony Wrzosek, vice president of R.D. Olson Development, said they are still working on that decision.

Commission Chairman Lawrence Carnicelli said that the developers would be complying with the county policy if they bought credits, paid into the housing fund or built housing. But he added that he recognized that the commission, who heard from testifiers who wanted housing over a hotel, “would lean toward building rather than (developers) buying their way out.”

Another issue commissioners wanted examined more was the traffic studies performed in the area.

Carnicelli wondered how the current traffic studies in the area would change if they factored in the new Kahului Airport Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility, which came online earlier this year.

A traffic engineer with the project, Matt Nakamoto of Austin Tsutsumi & Associates, acknowledged that traffic data is about two years old and there are lag times when data is gathered and studies are complete. However, he said the current traffic study still has a viable shelf life.

He noted the difficulty of capturing all newer traffic implications into studies that require time to put together.

Commissioner Kawika Freitas also questioned why occupancy rates for other nearby hotels, such as Maui Beach and Maui Seaside, were not included in the draft EIS.

Developer officials said they did not look at those hotels, but rather looked at the nearby Courtyard by Marriott, across from Costco, as developer R.D. Olson previously owned that hotel.

According to the draft EIS, the Marriott across from Costco has an annualized occupancy rate of 92 percent. Hotel standards consider 90 percent or greater as being at full occupancy, the study said.

The new Windward Hotel would also cater to the similar clientele of the business traveler and those wanting to stay close to the airport.

Other comments the commission made for the draft EIS included: discussing the use of recycled water for irrigation, possibly using solar or photovoltaic systems, naming possible operators for the hotel, addressing sea level rise more clearly and expanding more on the discussion of cultural resources and possible impacts.

Six people testified on the matter on Tuesday, with most opposing the project and at least one critical of some points in the draft EIS.

“I really believe that we have reached the tipping point as far as tourism for Maui County,” said Kai Nishiki.

She said even tourism proponents are discussing how important it is to manage tourism. Nishiki said she can support hotel renovations if they keep the room count the same.

“We don’t need any more (hotels) pushing into the last affordable areas, which is Kahului and Wailuku,” she added.

Affordable housing advocate Stan Franco said when he worked for former Mayor Elmer Cravalho, the mayor had a vision for tourism but wanted it to stay in Kaanapali and Makena.

“He didn’t want hotels in the Kahului and Wailuku area. He wanted to keep that for the local people,” Franco said.

He later added that “our people need housing,” and that more has to be done for the community before more hotels are added.

Dick Mayer raised questions about incorrect tourism numbers used in the study, and felt that not enough light industrial was taking place in the Maui Business Park II as required, taking aim at the hotel use.

He also questioned the proposed 200 rooms, saying there may be more than 400 beds.

“How many people will be there?” Mayer wondered.

The Windward Hotel project is expected to be built in a single phase, starting in 2021. It is expected to open for business in 2023, the draft EIS said.

The applicant has submitted applications for a community plan amendment, change of zoning and special management area use permit. A public hearing on the matters will be scheduled after the EIS process has been completed, according to planning commission documents.

The community plan amendment would be for a land use designation change from light industrial to hotel.

To view the full draft EIS, visit oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/EA_EIS_Library/2019-10-08-MA-DEIS-Windward-Hotel.pdf.

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