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State LUC OKs revised plan for Pulelehua project

Panel praises developer Paul Cheng for engaging with the community

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. Cheng’s work to engage with the community were lauded after a vote Thursday to green light the project. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — The state Land Use Commission gave the green light to a revised version of a West Maui housing and commercial project that turned opposition into support, increases affordable housing and rentals and includes provisions to keep them affordable long term.

Praising the project as setting a framework for future development, the panel voted unanimously Thursday morning on a request by developer Maui Oceanview LP to make changes to the original 2006 Pulelehua decision and order that reclassified the 304 acres below Kapalua Airport from agriculture to urban.

Pulelehua will now include the capacity for 500 affordable housing and rental units, along with 500 market-rate units. More than 7 miles of walkways and trails, a 10-acre regional sports park and a 13-acre school site with infrastructure also are planned.

“I think this represents an incredible model for affordable housing that could be duplicated at other locations, not only on Maui, but across the state,” Commissioner Dan Giovanni said Thursday before the vote. “I hope that happens.”

When the commission originally approved the Pulelehua project in 2006, developer Maui Land & Pineapple Co. agreed to make 450 of the 882 units affordable.

Paul Cheng, president of Maui Oceanview LP, 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.

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 and urged Cheng to engage with the West Maui community.

When asked what changed from September’s meeting, Cheng pointed to Kai Nishiki, president of West Maui Preservation Association.

“I just needed someone to tell me what the community needed,” he told The Maui News on Wednesday. “No one told me, I just followed the law, every state is different. . . . Here, it’s not written, how would I know about the shoreline collapsing or things like that. But it’s important. I thought, ‘We’ve got to help.’ ”

Cheng said another difference is that he will remain a long-term owner.

“What good is it for me to build a horrible place — where am I going to run? I’m still owner, unlike some of these other people who sell, never to be seen again,” he said. “They’re retiring in Montana. They don’t care.

“I’m still here. I’ll still be here. I’ll be the old man with the stick, walking around (telling people) to clean up your lawn.”

After September’s meeting, Cheng and community representatives began to hash out a settlement agreement that would increase affordable units. Project consultant Lahela Aiwohi facilitated public meetings and gathered west side community leaders, such as Nishiki and Tiare Lawrence, a founder and board member of West Maui community group Ka Malu o Kahalawai.

Nishiki donated “hundreds of hours” to work with Cheng on a key settlement agreement presented Wednesday that bolstered the affordable housing component. The project now will build 300 affordable rentals and 100 affordable homes. Another 100 units of affordable rentals are possible with ohana unit construction on affordable home lots for sale.

The agreement also includes a $1.6 million community benefit trust to help with down payment funds for West Maui residents buying affordable or Hawaiian homelands; three of the 100 market-priced properties being sold to a nonprofit at cost for a pilot project to develop three affordable single-family homes with deed-restricted affordable rental ohanas; affordable rentals and homes remaining in long-term affordability; affordable renters not having to pay electric and water; and a prohibition on short-term rentals and bed-and-breakfasts.

The project includes 400 market-rate rental units and 100 market-rate residential units for sale.

Many who spoke in opposition of the project in September came forward to strongly support it Wednesday. The contrast was applauded by many commissioners before Thursday’s vote.

“I just want to say hats of to this team for listening to the community,” Commissioner Edmund Aczon said. “Yesterday I thought I was in the wrong hearing. It was really a turnaround.

“This is a testament that when everybody listens to each other, great things can happen. This is a great day for Maui as well as for the entire state of Hawaii.”

Commissioners and community members said they hoped Cheng’s approach, which brought together opposing sides, would be used on future projects.

“It was refreshing to see people, who normally wouldn’t be on the same side, come together for once,” Lawrence said after the vote. “I give credit to the developer for doing his due diligence in addressing community concerns. I hope this can be a template for future projects that do proper community engagement before presenting plans.”

The next step is with the county, and project district requests may be submitted within the next three months, according to attorney Gil Keith-Agaran, who represents Cheng.

Cheng said if county approval occurs in a reasonable time period, the project could break ground by late summer.

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

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