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1,150-unit Honua‘ula project heads to mediation

Revamped development, years in the making, is seeking one of its final approvals

Wailea-bound traffic prepares to turn right off Piilani Highway and onto Wailea Ike Drive in 2018. The spot where Piilani Highway currently dead ends would become the main entrance to the 670-acre project Honua‘ula, with the highway continuing on through the project. On Tuesday, the Maui Planning Commission approved two community groups’ request to intervene on the project, which is now headed for mediation. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Honua’ula master-planned community of more than 1,000 housing units and mixed-use development faces yet another challenge as it heads into mediation and may end up in a contested case hearing.

The Maui Planning Commission on Tuesday granted Maui Tomorrow Foundation and Ho’oponopono O Makena’s petition to intervene on the project. Honua’ula Partners did not oppose.

This comes as Honua’ula — which has been in the works for about 30 years as it sought approvals and got stuck in legal challenges — is now seeking to obtain what is likely to be its final discretionary approval to move forward, although other county administrative permits are also needed.

Once known as Wailea 670, the proposed project on approximately 670 acres in Wailea would be located south of Maui Meadows and mauka of Wailea Resort. It is seeking a Project District Phase II Development approval.

Plans for Honua’ula, which have evolved over the years, now call for about 1,150 new housing units, including 288 workforce housing units, 515 single-family residential units and 346 multifamily residential units; 24 acres of village mixed use; 103 acres of recreation and open space; and 170 acres to be placed in conservation easement with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. All will be on-site. Workforce housing units need to be completed before any market units are sold, according to a previous condition of the project.

A map shows the location of the proposed Honua‘ula master-planned community of more than 1,000 housing units. The project is headed to mediation after the Maui Planning Commission approved two community groups’ request to intervene. MUNEKIYO HIRAGA graphic

Previous plans years ago called for workforce housing to be done off-site in North Kihei. The number of units has also been scaled back from the originally proposed 1,400, while former plans for an 18-hole golf course have been scrapped.

In an all-day meeting, the planning commission selected John Rapacz, a former county employee who was also planning program administrator for the Zoning Administration and Enforcement Division, as the mediator between the project officials and the community groups. The commission expects mediation to be wrapped up by its March 8 meeting and a report to be presented to the commission at that time.

If the issues are not resolved, the matter will head to a contested case hearing in which the Maui Planning Commission will hear the matter on March 22.

Maui Tomorrow is an environmental advocacy agency organization and Ho’oponopono O Makena exists to preserve and protect cultural and historic sites in Makena and surrounding area, according to the petition.

Ryan Hurley, attorney for the groups, said granting the petition would provide a “more accurate record,” as intervenors could provide information to the commission for its decision-making, including on cultural sites in the area that some testifiers said Tuesday were not reported in the documentation provided to various government agencies. Hurley said that the intervention could shine light on the matter.

He said some of the intervenors in the groups are Native Hawaiians and descendants of the area who have traditional and customary rights. Others are neighbors of the project.

While Honua’ula did not oppose the intervention, attorney Cal Chipchase did say the process could help clear up “confusion.”

Chipchase said that both the State Historic Preservation Division and Office of Hawaiian Affairs have approved the historic preservation plan and that the claim by testifiers and intervenors that cultural sites were not documented and that there are other maps out there that have not been provided “is just not true.”

Testimony on Tuesday was mixed, with those supporting the petition to intervene concerned about the number and possible prices of the affordable housing along with the water resources that will be built and used for the project.

Justin Kekiwi, a lineal descendant of the area who has been gathering resources there for years, said the project is not for the community and “the affordable housing, it’s a joke.”

He said the potential prices will not be low enough to allow local folks to own in the area and feels that 288 workforce homes are not enough.

Project officials said during the meeting that it was too early to estimate the cost of market and workforce homes, but that they are working with the county regarding a workforce housing agreement which will follow a sliding scale regarding rental and ownership.

Kaniloa Kamaunu said that although the project will drill its own wells and not tap into the county system, the water will be taken from the same aquifer that everyone else uses.

“Where is the recharge?” he asked. “They are takers. They are not giving anything back.”

Bob Hansen, a supporter of the project, said it “looks like the same argument” that critics brought up years ago over the project. Hansen, however, brought up concerns over flooding in recent weeks and in December when a major storm hit Maui, and wanted to make sure there were enough retention basins in the project.

Bruce U’u, who reviewed the project while he was previously on the Maui Planning Commission, said the project brings both preservation and housing.

“Preservation is very important, but humans (are) just as important,” said U’u, who is also a field representative for the Maui Chapter of the Hawaii Carpenters Union.

U’u said the project has evolved into something better, noting the more scaled-back development, including the elimination of the golf course and the addition of preservation areas.

“The giveback is way greater,” U’u said, adding that pushback by certain parties led to the more balanced current project.

In 2012, the Maui Planning Commission accepted the project’s environmental impact statement and environmental assessment. That same year, the Sierra Club and Maui Unite challenged the EIS.

The parties eventually reached a settlement agreement in 2016 that included a north and south preservation area, an agreement with the county on form and terms of conservation easement to be overseen by a land trust, interim and long-term access protocols for the public, protection of historic trails, an expanded buffer for Maui Meadows and lighting restrictions, according to Chris Sugidono of planning consultant Munekiyo Hiraga.

There will also be a full-time natural resources manager, Sugidono said, adding that this will be one of the first cultural landscapes registered with the State Historic Preservation Division on private land.

During the presentation, Sugidono said that before any vertical construction can occur, traffic improvements will need to happen, including expanding Piilani Highway from Kilohana Drive to Wailea Ike Drive to four lanes. Signals will also be added to various intersections in the area.

David Goode of Wailea Resort SF-S Partners LP said that some of the traffic improvements noted by Honua’ula will be done by other developers in Wailea who have worked out an agreement with the state Department of Transportation.

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

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