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MRA decision-making is being put on hold for time being

Sides agree on moratorium while legality of agency determined

Maui Redevelopment Agency members Keone Ball (left) and Jo-Ann Ridao (foreground) listen to testimony, along with other MRA members, in November. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

The Maui Redevelopment Agency will not be making any decisions on zoning and variance requests until the County Council decides on the legality of the agency, per an agreement between Maui County and plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the powers of the agency.

The moratorium on decision-making was announced Friday by the two community groups, Wailuku Good Government Coalition and Maui Tomorrow Foundation, which filed their lawsuit earlier this year. They are challenging the legal authority of the Maui Redevelopment Agency to zone land in Wailuku and to issue variances.

The lawsuit attacks the legal foundation of the agency, which exists because of the 1949 Urban Renewal Law adopted by the Territorial Legislature to ease redevelopment of urban areas, the plaintiffs said. The structure of county government and the charter has changed since then.

The two groups also argue that the county can change its own government structure — and eliminate the agency.

The plaintiffs note that planning and land use issues go before the planning commissions and the County Council. That is not the case with MRA applications, with plans only subject to limited review by the council. These powers should lie with the council and the Board of Variances and Appeals, they say.

Among the drivers of the lawsuit is the proposed six-story, 156-room Hotel Wailuku, near the corner of Market and Main streets. The agency has been mulling raising building heights in Wailuku from four to six stories.

Two hearings are planned next week on the hotel in the Urban Design Review Board, which will comment on the design of the hotel, at 10 a.m. Tuesday and the MRA, which will be commenting on the hotel’s draft environmental assessment, at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Both meetings can go on as planned because there is no decision-making, said plaintiffs’ attorney Lance Collins on Friday night.

Collins added that he is not aware of any bills currently in the council dealing with the MRA. The agreement calls for the council’s “consideration and adoption of one or more ordinances legalizing the MRA’s status or abolishing it,” the two groups said in its news release.

The council has somewhat of a deadline for action with a hearing on the lawsuit before 2nd Circuit Judge Kelsey Kawano moved from June 17 to Oct. 14. The county has moved to dismiss the complaint and the two groups are seeking a summary judgment.

“They can’t have forever to decide what to do,” Collins said, noting that this is an election year as well.

“Most people agree that the historic character and charm of Wailuku needs to be carefully preserved,” said Albert Perez, executive director of Maui Tomorrow Foundation. “We are hopeful that this moratorium will give the council time to protect the heart and soul of Wailuku town, increase opportunities for truly affordable housing and prevent damage to one of the last refuges for local residents on Maui.”

“I think everyone is hopeful the county will do the right thing,” Collins said. “From our side, we want to give the county the opportunity to do the right thing.”

The county was not prepared to respond to the moratorium agreement on Friday night.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

** This story includes a correction from the original published Saturday, May 30, 2020.

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