Permit granted for six-story 170-room hotel expansion

Some say plan will bring more jobs, others concerned about overtourism

The Maui Coast Hotel in Kihei, pictured Tuesday, is seeking to add a six-story building with about 170 guests rooms next to its current property. On Tuesday, the Maui Planning Commission approved a special management area use permit for the expansion following more than five hours of public testimony, with the majority in opposition to the expansion. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Maui Coast Hotel received approval for a permit to build a six-story, 170-room expansion that drew hours of public testimony from some residents who touted the new jobs and others who worried about overtourism and traffic.

The Maui Planning Commission voted 5-2 to approve the special management area use permit, with one abstention, which counts as vote in favor, said Corporation Counsel Michael Hopper.

“No matter what project comes before us, we always are going to have the pros and the cons,” said commissioner Stephen Castro Sr., who made the motion to approve.

“I truly believe this is a good project,” he added, noting it will bring jobs to local families.

Commissioners Kawika Freitas and P. Denise La Costa were opposed to the project, with Freitas saying he felt it would impact traffic, cause congestion and create safety issues. He also had concerns over water usage, drainage and the design of the project.

“There is enough on here; this is not a good development,” Freitas said.

Freitas said he’d rather have the thousands of gallons of water that the hotel would use per day go toward residents and agriculture on Maui rather than visitors. He also pointed to a recent, nonbinding Maui County Council resoution that expresses support for sustainable tourism, emphasizing quality over quantity.

“It is clear we have overtourism (on) this island,” Freitas said.

New commissioner Ashley Lindsey was the sole abstention, tearfully conveying that she was torn over her decision and “honestly can’t pick community over environment.”

More than 36 people testified over the course of five hours, with about two-thirds opposed due to concerns over drainage, traffic, impacts to views and overtourism. Other testifiers, including some from trade unions, pointed to the new jobs it would create and said that the areas is also zoned for hotel.

According to Planning Commission documents, the estimated $48 million construction project, proposed by WCME, will be built on a 4.8-acre vacant parcel next to the current 265-room hotel, which is located on the mauka side of South Kihei Road. The expansion will include an entrance lobby, a pool and deck and rooftop solar. There will also be a one-story restaurant, retail and/or meeting space building, which will be located at the front of the property and closer to South Kihei Road than the current hotel. It will also include two parking areas, one with 112 parking stalls, including ADA accessible stalls, and another with 118 stalls.

Neighbors mauka of the hotel were concerned about the water flow, pointing out that rainwater can run quickly and heavily down into their yards and streets. Some neighbors said that in 2006, waters filled a nearby retention basin and then a gulch near the hotel property.

Resident Molly Jacobson said that retention basin used to be flat and that kids used to play in the area, but now it’s uneven and contains holes, hinting at possible deterioration below ground. She was concerned something similar would happen on the hotel property.

Mark “Marco” Martella, who lives in the nearby Maui Vista, said he is against the development, fearing more traffic, more visitors on the streets and on the beach and an increase in noise.

“I understand 170 rooms, if you add that with employee traffic, support traffic, it’s going to make the traffic on South Kihei Road worse than it already is. It is already bad,” Martella said.

He said he and his wife go to Kamaole I and Charley Young Beach and that “the beach is already overrun” and “there is too many people on South Kihei Road.” He added that he could see a “marked degradation at the beach” with the return of the tourists after COVID-19.

Supporters of the project noted a need for local jobs and pointed to the already established zoning for the hotel. They also said the hotel has been a good neighbor for years.

“It’s been zoned (for a hotel) since 1969. You can’t say it’s an unplanned hotel,” said Bruce U’u, a field representative for the Maui Chapter of the Hawaii Carpenters Union who was also sharing his personal views.

U’u pointed out that “before it gets to the commission it has to get vetted through every county department,” which involves engineers examining issues such as water and runoff. He said he meant no disrespect to some of the testifiers who had concerns over views and property values, but that “if you came here 18 years ago, three years ago, six years ago, you get this quality dirty water, traffic, pollution, runoff, you part of it, guys.”

Maui Coast Hotel Director of Sales and Marketing Joanna Awai said the expansion “will create more jobs for local families like mine” and noted the “wonderful care” the hotel has given her as an employee.

The hotel currently has 70 staff members and could generate 60 more jobs with the expansion, Awai said.

During the pandemic, the hotel stayed open to accommodate airline flight crews and also National Guardsmen. She said that around 100 to 120 rooms are used by flight crews daily and that about 20 rooms a day are used by kama’aina, with more on the weekends.

The development fits with land use and zoning plans, according to Planning Commission documents. The state land use designation is urban district, the Maui Island Plan identifies the area as within the urban growth boundary and the Kihei-Makena Community Plan designates the area as hotel. The county zoning is also hotel.

Leilani Pulmano, of Pacific Rim Land, the managing partner of applicant WCME, said that officials worked on the height and placement of the new building to have the least impact on the neighboring Pacific Shores condominiums. She added that cutting down the height by one story wouldn’t help, as Pacific Shores is four stories tall.

As for the drainage for the expansion area, Pulmano said that no modification will be made to a nearby gulch and the expansion area will have a filtration system to remove sediment before it goes into underground retention chambers.

She said that while runoff does go into the gulch from the vacant property, no new runoff generated by the expansion will go into the gulch and instead will be retained on site.

Pulmano said that a traffic impact analysis report was done and that eight intersections in the area will operate with similar levels of service with or without the project. The project is expected to generate about 120 trips during the morning peak hours and 142 trips in the afternoon peak hours. Some changes that project officials plan to implement to help traffic circulation in the area include establishing a two-way left turn lane median along South Kihei Road fronting the project site.

The commission discussed possible conditions for the project but ultimately did not impose any.

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


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