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West Maui plan takes effect without mayor’s signature

Victorino cites concerns over Kahoma Village, housing designations

Kahoma Village, a 203-unit, $60 million fast-track affordable housing project, is pictured in March. Citing concerns over impacts to the Kahoma project, Mayor Michael Victorino declined to sign the West Maui Community Plan, which took effect without his signature. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Mayor Michael Victorino allowed the West Maui Community Plan to become law without his signature, citing issues with conditions surrounding the Kahoma Village development and a reduction in residential housing designations for lands mauka of the Lahaina Aquatic Center.

“Overall, I believe the West Maui Community Plan is a very good plan,” Victorino said in a news release Monday. “However, I did not sign the ordinance because of my reservations about ’11th hour’ changes that could jeopardize the property rights of Kahoma Village residents.”

“I am always concerned by any piece of legislation not signed by Corporation Counsel,” he added.

The West Maui Community Plan was approved by the Maui County Council on second and final reading on Dec. 17.

The process of updating the plan began more than four years ago, and the document has since been reviewed by the West Maui Community Plan Advisory Committee, the Maui Planning Commission and the council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee, each proposing amendments before it moved on to the full council.

The plan will help guide the future development and revitalization in West Maui from Ukumehame to Honokohau, according to its website. It is a policy guide, informing decisions about the character of new development, land use, parks and infrastructure over the next 20 years.

Victorino explained that the updated plan continues to require multiple acres of parks on Kahoma Village land that is already built out with affordable housing.

In 2014, the County Council approved construction of Kahoma Village through a fast-track review process for affordable housing, despite other land uses for that site designated in the 1996 West Maui Community Plan, Victorino said.

He added that the current County Council resurrected language from the 1996 plan to impose old conditions on the land that’s already been fully developed, potentially putting Kahoma Village homeowners in legal jeopardy since existing land use is inconsistent with the community plan.

Victorino also took issue with the council reducing a designation for residential housing in Lahaina Town South from 64 acres to 6 acres on lands mauka of the Lahaina Aquatic and Recreational Center.

“Planners have advised us this is an ideal spot for infill development of needed housing in West Maui and I believe this change deserves more discussion,” Victorino added.

He has asked the Planning Director to draft proposed amendments to rectify the plan’s “current legal ambiguity” and to allow for additional public input on Kahoma Village and Lahaina Town South.

Maui County Council Member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat, said the council did “our best to keep to the recommendations” of the volunteer groups. Paltin is chairwoman of the Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee, which vetted the plan after review and input by the West Maui Community Plan Advisory Committee and the Maui Planning Commission.

“There were many controversial issues, (but) ultimately we had to make hard choices and I think the end result is something to be proud of,” Paltin said.

In regards to Kahoma Village, she said the majority of the council voted to retain wording from the previous plan based on the results of a court case over the housing project.

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. During the meeting, more than 20 Lahaina residents opposed the decision and called for the space to be turned into a public community park, which was required by the West Maui Community Plan at the time.

A group called the Protect and Preserve Kahoma Ahapua’a Association tried to intervene on the project but was denied. They sued the Maui Planning Commission and Stanford Carr Development, which first proposed the project in 2012.

In 2021, the Hawaii State Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower court invalidating a permit for Kahoma Village, which by that time had already been built.

“The ultimate decision was to not use the community plan update to undo the citizens’ legal victory and to have them work out a resolution with the assurance from the group they had no intention of having Kahoma Villages homes being torn down, but rather addressing the wrong in the legal action,” Paltin said Monday.

As for Victorino’s issues with Lahaina Town South, Paltin said that the council planning committee learned near the end of its review of the plan that the area that was proposed to be designated for housing had a “high probability” of sacred sites and/or burials. This was based on a presentation from the county’s archaeologist, Janet Six, from data she received from the State Historic Preservation Division.

Paltin said she did not want to see future issues come up regarding potential burials and a need for affordable housing. If cultural sites were found in the area, it could add to the cost of the affordable homes and the community would be torn between protecting the sites and a need for housing.

Committee members did not remove current entitlements for housing in the area, which was already in the old West Maui Community Plan, but rather removed proposals for expansion of the housing areas, Paltin explained.

Council Chairwoman Alice Lee said Monday afternoon that she was “not surprised” that Victorino didn’t sign the ordinance.

“I myself voted for the plan with reservations, because I did not agree to certain parts of the plan,” Lee said.

This included the issue with Kahoma Village. Lee worried about what would happen to homeowners if they wanted to make improvements to their properties, as their homes would not be in compliance with the recent changes.

Her other concern is over a portion of housing in the Kaanapali 2020 project area being designated for another use, such as park space, in the updated plan.

She said there is a critical shortage of housing and noted that the long-awaited West Maui hospital, yet to be built, could have used the nearby housing for its workers.

“It could have been a circular economy right there in one location,” she said.

As for Victorino possibly seeking amendments to the plan, Lee said she was unsure if it would pass, as the the full council approved the West Maui Community Plan with a majority.

The vote on second and final reading on Dec. 17 was seven in favor and one “no” by Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura.

Council Member Tasha Kama was absent and excused.

Kai Nishiki, chairwoman of the West Maui Community Plan Advisory Committee, said in a text Monday evening: “It’s unfortunate that the Mayor chose not to sign off, however the Maui County Council did approve it and I am confident that this plan prioritizes the quality of life for residents and needs of the West Maui community.”

She said that overall, the committee “worked diligently to fulfill the projected housing needs in West Maui, and honestly we just need the developers to get moving on projects that have had their entitlements for years.”

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

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