Panel denies 59-unit Olowalu housing project
Council committee votes 5-4 to halt the fast-track workforce, market-rate plan
An Olowalu housing project awash with debate was voted down by the County Council Affordable Housing Committee in a close 5-4 decision on Monday.
The 59-unit project has spurred hours of public testimony in recent weeks, with supporters saying workforce housing is desperately needed in West Maui and opponents countering that the project isn’t affordable enough, threatens Olowalu reef health and impacts plans for Honoapiilani Highway realignment.
Landowner Peter Martin sought to develop 40 workforce homes, along with 19 market-priced vacant lots, on about 30 acres of land mauka of Honoapiilani Highway in a project called Lihau’ula.
The 40 three- and four-bedroom homes were designed for residents earning between 80 to 140 percent of area medium income, with maximum sales prices of $506,400 to $815,235. Another nine 10,000-square-foot vacant lots would be sold to residents for market rates of $250,000 to $350,000. Ten 1-acre vacant lots would be sold for $350,000 to $500,000.
Kyle Ginoza, Lihau’ula LLC project manager, said Tuesday that his team is disappointed and that the vote would deny local families the opportunity to live in Olowalu.
“We truly believed that offering this project consisting of over two-thirds workforce homes without government grants or funding is admirable,” he said. “Unfortunately, we did not receive clear direction from the five council members who voted against this project on how to enable workforce housing.”
Council Member Mike Molina, who voted against the project, criticized the location and the price of Lihau’ula. A former teacher, Molina said that prices would be hard to meet for “rank and file” educators or firefighters.
“$500,000? That’s unrealistic. It’s very, very difficult,” Molina said during Monday’s meeting. “We have recently approved projects with low-end affordability in the $300,000 range.”
Council Chairwoman Alice Lee, who voted for the project, said confusion surrounds affordable housing prices, where higher-end homes help support lower-end ones.
“I’m a strong, strong advocate of affordable housing,” she said. “A lot of times people forget that affordable housing is really subsidized housing, housing that was not meant to be free.”
The Lihau’ula plan, situated between Olowalu General Store and Camp Olowalu, was on a fast-track process that allows developers possible exemptions or modifications from County Code in exchange for 50 percent or more workforce homes. Lihau’ula is 68 percent affordable, according to Ginoza and Martin.
Council Member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat, said the reputation of the developer has jeopardized his projects. She voted against the proposal, pointing to a high volume of calls, texts, messages and in-person conversations over the weekend, among other concerns.
“Nobody I know wants this project to happen,” Paltin said.
Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who voted for the project, defended Martin, saying he is trying to “fulfill the wishes” of working families on Maui. Sugimura added that the proposal displayed sensitivity to environmental and cultural components.
“I want the project to happen,” she said. “It provides an opportunity for families.”
Ginoza felt that many of the reasons for the project’s denial were “baseless accusations or generalizations that lacked merit.”
“We are not deterred, however, and we remain steadfast in our resolve to provide housing for our community,” he added.
Other votes against the project were Council Members Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Kelly King and Shane Sinenci. Council Members Riki Hokama and Tasha Kama voted for the project.
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.