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State Supreme Court upholds ruling invalidating Kahoma Village permit

With project already built, question centers on how to resolve issues

Kahoma Village, a 203-unit, $60 million fast-track affordable housing project, is pictured in March. Last week, the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower court invalidating a permit for the project. The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Hawaii State Supreme Court has upheld a decision by a lower court invalidating a permit for Kahoma Village, a workforce housing project already built in Lahaina.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals that the Maui Planning Commission should have allowed a group of neighboring residents to intervene on Kahoma Village, a 203-unit, $60 million fast-track affordable housing project that was approved in 2014. Their concerns included increased traffic, sewage, emergency access, pedestrian safety and impacts to endangered species and Hawaiian cultural resources.

The project sits on 21.6 acres near Lahaina Cannery Mall and is bordered by Front Street, Kahoma Stream, Honoapiilani Highway and Kenui Street. An initial lottery for the homes was held in 2018 and now 200-plus families currently occupy the homes.

The decision on Wednesday came after years of litigation on both sides which pitted neighboring residents from Protect and Preserve Kahoma Ahupua’a Association and others against the Maui Planning Commission and Stanford Carr Development, which first proposed the project in 2012.

The Supreme Court said that it agrees with the appeals court that the group “sufficiently demonstrated” that it had standing to intervene in the special management area use permit proceedings and was denied “procedural due process to protect its right to a clean and healthful environment” under Hawaii law. The court also said the planning commission was required to make findings on the project’s consistency with the general and community plans. With the decision to affirm the Intermediate Court of Appeals’ Sept. 14 judgment, the court remands the issue back to the Planning Commission.

“The intervenors were never interested in stopping the project from being built,” Lance Collins, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said Monday. “They just wanted to have community concerns fully addressed.”

In June 2014, the Maui Planning Commission granted the project a special management area use permit, saying it would add much needed workforce housing in West Maui. But more than 20 Lahaina residents opposed and also called for the space to be turned into a public community park, which was required by the West Maui Community Plan.

The Protect and Preserve Kahoma Ahupua’a Association tried to intervene on the project at the time. Members Mark Allen, Linda Allen and Constance B. Sutherland all live within 500 feet of the project, while another member, Michele Lincoln, lives upstream but uses the beach and drives in the area. The request to intervene was denied.

After losing an appeal in 2nd Circuit Court, the group took its case to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which vacated the circuit court’s decision and sent the case back to the planning commission last year.

The case was then taken up at the Hawaii Supreme Court where a hearing was held on March 19.

When asked about the fate of the project since the permit has been invalidated, Collins said that “at this point the plaintiffs would rather have resources devoted to addressing community concerns as best as possible.”

One way to fix the issues brought up by the case could be to require Kahoma Village to fulfill the 6-acre park that Collins said is a requirement for Lahaina town reflected in the community plan.

Another solution would be to ensure there are affordable units for families to buy, Collins said, noting public statements Carr made about families losing out on Kahoma Village units during the pandemic due to the economic fallout.

Collins said there are many fast-track affordable housing projects around the county that have encountered local families unable to secure financing, leading to no units being sold in the affordable range.

“It is truly regrettable that the full range of choices available to the planning commission no longer exist,” Collins added. “But there are still many ways that the county can obtain compliance with the law at this point that address the concerns of the community.”

Collins said that after the Intermediate Court of Appeals’ judgment, the plaintiffs did offer to sit down with the developer and the county to work out the issues. However, he believes the defendants wanted to wait for the outcome of the Supreme Court decision first.

County spokesman Brian Perry said in an email Friday that “the County of Maui is reviewing the Hawaii Supreme Court’s ruling and weighing its options going forward.”

Planning Director Michele McLean had told The Maui News following the appeals court decision last year that “this is unusual in that the project is essentially complete, so it is not clear what the plaintiffs-appellants wish to present to the Maui Planning Commission.”

“The court said that the commission did not find that the project was consistent with the General Plan, specifically the West Maui Community Plan, and so we will provide supplemental analysis for the commission to make this determination,” McLean said in September.

Carr and his attorneys could not be reached for comment.

But in a viewpoint in The Maui News on March 19, the day of the Supreme Court hearing, Carr voiced his dismay over the legal challenges, saying if construction had not been delayed due to the legal issues, some families in line for the homes prior to the COVID-19 pandemic would be homeowners now.

He said more than half of the workforce families in contract for the homes in March 2020 were forced to forfeit their unit when they could no longer substantiate income for a mortgage loan following pandemic-related layoffs.

While Carr said he is happy for those who are able to live in the homes, “it is truly heartbreaking” for those that had to forfeit their units.

“A March 2 letter submitted to The Maui News claims Kahoma Village resulted in irreparable damage to historical land,” Carr wrote. “In truth, the greatest damage, the irreparable harm, was wrought by those who upended the dream of homeownership for 50-plus West Maui families.”

He also said the location has “no evidence of traditional precontact activity,” according to the State Historic Preservation Division.

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

**This story contains a correction from its printed version.

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