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Opponents become backers of West Maui development

Pulelehua plan with bump to 500 affordable units hammered out at meeting

Kai Nishiki, president of West Maui Preservation Association, live streams the state Land Use Commission meeting Wednesday in Kahului. Nishiki volunteered “hundreds” of hours to negotiate a key settlement agreement with Pulelehua’s developer to increase affordable housing and rental units. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photos

KAHULUI — The state Land Use Commission on Wednesday credited community engagement with producing an agreement that may finally help move forward a West Maui housing and commercial development project that’s stagnated for more than a decade.

The settlement agreement between West Maui Preservation Association and developer Paul Cheng of Maui Oceanview LP increases the number of affordable housing and rental units to 500 for Pulelehua, which is equal to the number of market-rate units.

When the commission originally approved the project in 2006, developer Maui Land & Pineapple Co. agreed to make 450 of the 882 units affordable for Pulelehua, a project slated for 304 acres below Kapalua Airport.

Cheng purchased Pulelehua with all of its land entitlements in 2016 and sought to reduce the number of affordable units to 280 with 520 market-rate units. The proposed reduction of affordable units from 51 percent of total units to 31 percent incensed testifiers at an LUC meeting in late September.

“Mr. Cheng, I really applaud you for working with the community,” commissioner Dawn Chang said. “We were here in September and many of the community members provided public comments against the project, and we instructed you to go back.

Maui Oceanview LP President Paul Cheng listens to testimony during Wednesday’s state Land Use Commission hearing about Pulelehua at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The developer managed to hammer out agreements with those opposed to his project. Sitting next to him is his attorney, Maui state Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran.

“And you did, you genuinely engaged and came up with quite frankly an awesome settlement agreement.”

Other key terms included a $1.6 million donation to a community benefit trust to help with down payments for West Maui residents buying affordable units, a mandate that the rentals and homes remain affordable long term and a restriction on short-term rentals and bed-and-breakfasts within Pulelehua.

Meanwhile, a threat to further delay the project by neighboring property owners, who said they weren’t notified of proposed Pulelehua changes, diminished after hours of public testimony that included four council members, who spoke in favor of moving forward with the revised plan.

The owners of the 10 neighboring properties, represented by attorney Bernie Bays, and Maui Oceanview LP reached an agreement during meeting breaks, leading Bays to withdraw the request to intervene about an hour before the meeting adjourned Wednesday afternoon.

Bays said terms of the agreement are confidential.

Attorney Bernie Bays represented 10 neighboring property owners who opposed the Pulelehua project. By the end of the state land board’s meeting Wednesday, the developer and Bays’ clients forged an agreement.

Now, the proposed agreement is in the hands of the state Land Use Commission, which must hash out details on the amendments to the project’s original decision and order and decide whether to take action. The meeting continues at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Haynes Meeting Room at 9:30 a.m. today.

At the September meeting, Cheng said that the reduction in affordable units was necessary because the 51 percent was “not economical.” The panel deferred action seeking more information and urged Cheng to engage with the West Maui community.

Project consultant Lahela Aiwohi on Wednesday said that since September there have been about 40 community-engagement meetings, with two gatherings drawing about 75 people each.

In a major turn of events Wednesday, many of September’s opponents of the project came out in fierce support of the current plans, saying that the developer had heard the community’s concerns.

“I told him about our high cost of living, the prices of homes in West Maui, the prices of rentals in West Maui, that our only highway is falling into the ocean, that we don’t have beach access, that developers in the past have come in and not respected our community and just basically did what they wanted,” said shoreline activist Kai Nishiki of West Maui Preservation, who led settlement agreement negotiations.

KELLY KING - Testifies support for project

“He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said I don’t want to be that person, I want to be different, I want to contribute to the community,” she said.

The project also won praise from Rod Antone, executive director of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, who said hotel employees need affordable housing. He emphasized that it was rare to see opposing sides come together in agreement on a development.

“I would like to point out: There are a lot of people in this room that haven’t always been on the same side of issues,” he said. “Maui has been divided for a while, and it’s a pleasure to be in the room with these people and stand on the same side for once.”

Several testifiers discussed the high cost of housing on the west side.

Junya Nakoa, who lives near the proposed project, said his cousin recently moved into a two-bedroom unit in Honokowai and pays $2,700 per month.

“It’s nuts,” he said.

Maui County Council Chairwoman Kelly King said the project will help with the county’s affordable housing need of 12,500 units in the next five years.

“I personally believe if we do projects like this that are large enough, they’re going to impact the existing rental rates and existing prices, and hopefully, everything will become more affordable,” she said.

Lahaina resident Joseph Pluta of West Maui Taxpayers Association encouraged the panel to move swiftly. “The faster this thing can be approved and move forward, the better for everyone,” he said.

Settlement agreement highlights include:

• 300 affordable rental units.

• 100 affordable units for sale.

• Three of the 100 market-priced home lots will be sold to a nonprofit at cost for a pilot project to develop three affordable single-family homes with three deed-restricted affordable rental ohanas.

• 100 affordable accessory dwelling units will be allowed to be built on the 100 market-rate lots and shall be deed restricted to be rented at 100 percent of adjusted median income (includes electric and water).

• Affordable rentals remain affordable for 30 years, at which point the county will have the right of first refusal to purchase or invest in improvements to keep them affordable over the long term.

• Affordable-for-purchase-housing units will remain in long-term affordability with a “managed appreciation resale model,” which will help retain these homes long term in affordable housing inventory.

• Affordable renters will not pay electric and water.

• Short-term rentals and B&Bs are prohibited.

• 7-plus miles of public multiuse pathways and open space.

• 10-acre regional multisport park.

• 13-acre school site with infrastructure.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.