Commission, CPAC chairs face conflict allegations
Developer ties, Pulelehua pact payments questioned
The Maui Planning Commission began its review of the draft West Maui Community Plan on Tuesday night amid questions about possible separate conflict of interest claims involving the heads of the commission and the West Maui Community Plan Advisory Committee.
The community plan is a key policy document for the region that establishes social, environmental and economic goals and desired growth patterns for the next 20 years. Developments not designated in the plan can face major hurdles, and land desired by the community for open space and protection will fare better if in the plan.
The West Maui Community Plan Advisory Committee, an all-volunteer group headed by Kai Nishiki, spent 10 months discussing and reviewing the plan and on May 19 unanimously voted to forward its draft community plan recommendations to the commission.
Some of the highlights include 500 acres for newly dedicated park and open space, restrictions on gentleman’s estates and fast-track affordable housing projects in certain West Maui areas.
At the Tuesday meeting, testifiers raised the issue of a possible conflict with planning commission Chairman Lawrence Carnicelli and his job as managing director of Olowalu Elua Associates, which owns large tracts of land in the Olowalu area that is part of the West Maui Community Plan.
In response, Carnicelli said he reached out to the county Board of Ethics awhile back for an opinion on the possible conflict; the board advised him that he could participate in discussions involving Olowalu but should not vote on matters pertaining to Olowalu Elua Associates.
When Olowalu comes up in community plan discussions, Carnicelli said he will not participate in discussions nor vote. He also will “hand the gavel over” to Vice-Chairman Christian Tackett.
Carnicelli added that he doesn’t subscribe to the “plantation mentality” and will vote his conscience.
“I’ll vote how I’m going to vote,” he said.
Questions have been raised about Nishiki, who chaired the community plan advisory committee, over her support of the Pulelehua community development project near Kapalua Airport.
Originally opposed to the project, Nishiki and the nonprofit West Maui Preservation Association, which she is now immediate past president of, worked out a settlement agreement with the developer that later led to their support. Pulelehua is a 300-acre affordable and market-priced housing project near the Kapalua Airport being built by developer Paul Cheng and Maui Oceanview LP.
This paved the way for the state Land Use Commission to approve the revised version of Pulelehua, which has the capacity for 500 affordable housing and rental units along with 500 market-rate units.
The agreement called for design modifications to the project, more affordable units, preservation of certain gulches, no homeowner fees for affordable rental units and others requirements. A copy of the final agreement was obtained by The Maui News.
The agreement also included payments to the West Maui Preservation Association, whose goal is to preserve, protect and restore the natural and cultural environment of West Maui, and affiliated organizations.
The developer will make a $100,000 payment to the West Maui Preservation Association in increments, along with a one-time payment of $100,000 to a community advocacy group designated by WMPA to advocate for and facilitate relocation of Honoapiilani Highway between the pali and Olowalu away from the shoreline. That section of highway is facing the effects of erosion with the ocean washing over parts of the road during high tides.
The developer also will pay $1.6 million to the West Maui Revolving Housing Trust to be incorporated and established by the WMPA, the settlement agreement said.
The Pulelehua project is included in the draft West Maui Community Plan as approved in the settlement.
In response, Nishiki said in an email Wednesday that she did vote and participate in discussions about the Pulelehua project when it came up during the committee meetings — after receiving guidance from Corporation Counsel and Planning Department staff.
Nishiki said that the agreement provided a “significant improvement” to the original housing project and an increased community benefits package for West Maui. Without the agreement, she and many in the community would have continued to oppose the project.
“I am a volunteer member of a nonprofit board with zero financial compensation either from WMPA or Pulelehua or any other developer,” she said. “WMPA has settlement agreements with many West Maui shoreline resorts, developers and entities.
“I don’t work for Pulelehua or receive any financial compensation for any of my community service. I’m as broke as can be and do all this for aloha aina, for the love I have for our community, for the keiki, our future generations.”
Nishiki said she suspected that some “West Maui developer with financial interest in the community plan” is upset over recommendations made by the advisory committee and seeks “to discredit me.”
Comparing her situation to Carnicelli’s, Nishiki said that he is a paid executive of one of the largest landowners in West Maui and is planning commission chairman.
She called that “inappropriate.”
Tuesday’s initial meeting focused on the plan’s policy framework, which covered goals, such as ready and resilient systems and a complete, balanced and connected transportation network.
Testimony was limited to those items only. There were seven testifiers, which included those questioning Carnicelli’s role, some introducing themselves to the commission and others who said they will testify when their items are addressed later in future meetings.
The commission has 180 days to review the plan and has meetings scheduled through October to review sections at each session. The next commission meeting is Aug. 11. After the commission completes its review, the draft plan heads to the Maui County Council for final approval.
The draft plan can be found at wearemaui.org.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.