Pared height urged for Hotel Wailuku

Board recommends project scaled from 6 to 4 stories

Members of the Maui County Urban Design Review Board on Tuesday made recommendations on the proposed Hotel Wailuku, including scaling back the hotel from six to four stories and revisiting traffic flow and the parking location.

The review board, whose task is to review and advise the county Planning Department on design-related matters, took up the proposed six-story, 156-room Hotel Wailuku, near the corner of Market and Main streets in an online meeting.

Many residents are objecting to the project, citing its height and potential for bringing more tourists to an already congested area. Its developers and supporters say the hotel will be an economic engine to revitalize the town and a place for business and Neighbor Island travelers — not those looking for a beach-filled vacation.

In its recommendation to scale back the hotel height, the board urged that the project comply with the current four-story limit in the Wailuku Redevelopment Area Zoning and Development Code. Currently, the applicants Supreme Bright Wailuku LLC and Newcrest Image, which includes Maui residents and landowners Jonathan Starr and Helen Nielsen, are seeking a variance from setback and height standards for the project.

Some board members felt the six stories was too tall and “out of scale” for the neighborhood.

The review board also had concerns about the entrance and exit to the hotel and traffic issues on nearby Maluhia Drive, which runs between the hotel and its parking lot. Members expressed concerns about hotel users disrupting residents on Maluhia Drive and were skeptical that guests would know that the hotel vehicle entrance was through the off-site parking lot, even with signs.

The review board also recommended underground utilities while noting that the project’s landscaping will benefit the area’s ambiance.

Urban Design Review Board Vice Chairman Peter Niess recused himself from the vote because his father, Jim Niess, is a design consultant for the project. He did offer comment on the design of the project, though.

The review board was commenting on the hotel’s draft environmental assessment.

The Maui Redevelopment Agency will be meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to comment on the hotel’s draft environmental assessment. The MRA reviews applications for new development and renovation projects in the Wailuku Redevelopment Area.

It is the body, currently, that will decide the developer’s request for the variance on the hotel’s height. Applicants also will need approval from the MRA because the hotel is more than 20 rooms. Currently, the Commercial Mixed-Use zoning for the project only allows for a hotel with up to 20 rooms.

The MRA will do a design review as well.

But as the scheduled review process rolls along, decision-making by the MRA on the project is on hold per an agreement between Maui County and plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the powers of the agency.

A moratorium on the decision-making was announced by Wailuku Good Government Coalition and Maui Tomorrow Foundation on Friday, which filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the legal authority of the MRA to zone land in Wailuku and to issue variances.

Plaintiff’s attorney Lance Collins said last week that this week’s meetings can go on as planned because there is no decision-making. The agreement with the county calls for the County Council’s “consideration and adoption of one or more ordinances legalizing the MRA’s status or abolishing it,” the two groups said.

Currently, there are no bills on the MRA pending before the Maui County Council, said supervising legislative attorney David Raatz on Tuesday.

A hearing on the lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court was pushed back to Oct. 14.

On Tuesday, prior to the review board meeting, Starr said that the developers “haven’t had any official notice that anything happened. . . . We read an article in The Maui News (on the agreement), I guess it’s based on what some lawyer who is suing the county claimed. Beyond that we have no knowledge of anything.

“We haven’t seen any lawsuit filed against the county, certainly we have not been party to anything.”

Without receiving any official communication, Starr said he didn’t know how the agreement would impact his project. But he said developers will continue to work on the environmental assessment for the hotel.

As for possibly filing legal action of his own, Starr said: “We believe in rules of law. We are just following the steps in the process.”

He said they had looked at other uses for the property from workforce rental apartments to a nonprofit type center, but they all didn’t pan out.

“We are just trying to do something that will create a lot of jobs and lot of economic vitality for Wailuku,” Starr said. “Seems like something all positive to us.”

But of the 20 testifiers at Tuesday’s meeting only one voiced support for the project. That was Wailuku businessman and landowner Richard Dan, who said, “I’m 100 percent in favor of the hotel.”

He said he has seen Wailuku go through periods of blight, adding that times are tough. Two stores in the area recently just opened and then closed.

But others opposed to the hotel said it could hurt small businesses. Jackie Sabado-Eitel testified that her first workshop was in the building the hotel would replace. She said the Market Street area is where middle-class local businesses are able to start up.

With the hotel taking up the street corner and other impacts, “it would completely push out local small businesses.”

Hokuao Pellegrino, who has generations of family from the Wailuku area, said that historically the town has had hotels, but all of them were never more than three stories tall. The hotel’s height will block much of the views from mauka and makai.

The timing of the project is also an issue, with Pellegrino saying that 90 percent of condominiums and hotels currently are empty due to the pandemic.

“It’s not what the community needs,” he said. 

There are other hotels in Central Maui, including the planned Windward Hotel near Costco, another hotel possibly at the Kahului Shopping Center, along with various proposed renovations and additions to other nearby hotels, such as the Maui Beach.

“We don’t need any more hotels, especially Hotel Wailuku,” Pellegrino said. 

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

**This story contains a correction from the printed version on June 3.


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