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752-unit affordable housing project proposed in Waiehu

Planning Commission suggests roundabouts, designing project to fit the area

A map shows the location of a 752-unit, 100-percent affordable housing project proposed on 158 acres of a vacant 238-acre parcel in Waiehu. Courtesy image

A 752-unit, 100-percent affordable housing project proposed in Waiehu could use roundabouts to calm traffic, include a transit center and be designed to fit the character of the area, the Maui Planning Commission recently suggested.

Genova Construction Development of California is proposing to build the Waiehu Residential Community on 158 acres of a vacant 238-acre parcel mauka of Waiehu Terrace and along Kahekili Highway. Out of the proposed 752 dwelling units, 184 will be multifamily units and 568 will be single-family units. All will be for sale at prices determined by the Housing and Urban Development annual price guidelines.

In addition to housing, the development will also consist of a centrally located retail space of about 17,400 square feet and three parks totaling 6.3 acres, according to a draft environmental assessment for the project.

Planning commissioners, who won’t make the final call on the project but were able to review the report and provide comments during their meeting on Feb. 8, offered suggestions that included placing roundabouts where needed to provide better traffic flow and ensuring the housing development’s character would fit Hawaii and not be modeled after those on the Mainland.

One Wailuku resident wrote to the commission that while he was not opposed to affordable housing, he was “extremely concerned with the traffic study” and felt project officials were underestimating the additional trips per day that the development would generate.

“First off, they correctly identified that crucial intersections to access this area are at a critical mass or close to at this time,” David Hoffman wrote. “Any additional development will severely impair those intersections.”

During the 7 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. hours, “the backups are significant,” Hoffman said.

Commissioners floated the idea of having a “transit center” located in the business portion of the project. They also suggested ensuring that local residents get first choice at purchasing an affordable unit.

Other concerns dealt with water for the project. Commissioner Kimberly Thayer pointed to the draft study that said there may not be sufficient quantities of water at the onset to build the development all at once, forcing it to be done in phases. Thayer wanted to know if the commission “could get some layout how phasing will occur.”

She also wanted to know the impacts of losing agricultural-designated land if the project is approved.

The project site is predominantly located within the urban growth boundaries in the Maui Island Plan, according to the draft environmental assessment, though the land was once used for sugar cane and later macadamia nut cultivation.

The area may be familiar to longtime residents, as it was previously known as the Hale Mua affordable housing project proposed by Oahu developer Sterling Kim.

Kim was not able to proceed with the project due to issues including financial obstacles during the Great Recession. In a letter to the editor in The Maui News in 2018, Kim explained that he received financing from Central Pacific Bank after the project was approved in 2007, but the bank needed to be bailed out during the recession.

In April 2011, Kim’s Hale Mua project property was foreclosed on after he defaulted on a $10.6 million loan from Southwest 7. The lender and new property owner had said publicly it had no interest in developing the property mauka of Kahekili Highway.

In 2018, Kim made a last-minute plea to the state Land Use Commission, saying he had obtained finances to reacquire the property. While commissioners expressed support for affordable housing and sympathy for Kim, they noted they were bound to rule that there had been no substantial commencement of the project because no housing had been built and other conditions had gone unmet.

The LUC then reclassified the property back to an agricultural district.

The land was previously used for sugar cane cultivation and more recently macadamia nut production, according to the draft assessment. Agricultural activity has ceased for well over a decade and the property is overgrown with remnant trees and dense tall grassland, the report said.

The 238 acres were sold to Genova in October for $6 million, county tax records show.

Genova will seek approval for its proposed Waiehu Residential Community project under the state’s 201H “fast track” process for affordable housing, which allows exemptions from certain rules if the project is at least 50 percent affordable. The project will also request exemption from a Maui County community plan amendment, a change in zoning and compliance with the Maui Island Plan urban growth boundary, according to the draft assessment.

It is projected to begin construction in 2024 and be completed in 2032.

After a final environmental assessment is completed for the proposed development, it will next go to the state Land Use Commission for a district boundary amendment from agricultural to urban, a project planning consultant told the Maui Planning Commission on Feb. 8.

Comments from the Planning Commission will be used to prepare the final environmental assessment, said Jared Burkett, senior land use planner with the county Planning Department.

To view the project’s draft environmental assessment, which was released Dec. 23, visit oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/The_Environmental_Notice/2021-12-23-TEN.pdf.

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

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