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Committee wants Ethics Board to look into Napili home’s approval process

Construction resumes on controversial structure after stop-work order lifted

Construction on a home in Napili, pictured in November, has resumed after the developer brought the home into compliance following public complaints and council scrutiny. A Maui County Council committee plans to submit its questions on the home’s approval process to the Board of Ethics for possible further investigation. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

As construction on a controversial eight-bedroom, two-story home in Napili proceeds, a Maui County Council committee said Tuesday it will send its questions about the home’s approval process to the Board of Ethics to possibly examine the issue further.

The council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee at its recessed meeting Tuesday also decided that it will take up the matter again at its meeting in late May, following the council’s annual budget review, said Committee Chairman Mike Molina. He asked that Corporation Counsel, the Maui Police Department and the Planning and Public Works departments make verbal or written reports involving the home’s approval process, any investigations and/or misunderstandings that may have occurred. In gathering more information, the committee will be better able to decide if an investigation is warranted, he said.

The debate surrounds a home at 5385 Lower Honoapiilani Road, owned and developed by Greg Brown, a developer of homes in Launiupoko. Its size and height caught the eye of residents and community members last year who said the developer was skirting rules and disguising the home as a vacation rental. Brown, whose attorneys said he wanted to have the option of using the property as a vacation rental, countered that he had been building in compliance and plans were approved by the county.

The complaints led the council to update county laws regarding building heights in the Napili Civic Improvement District as well prohibit new hotel or vacation rental use throughout the district, where the home is located.

Complaints also led the county to investigate the size and height of the home and issue two stop-work orders to Napili Beach House LLC in December. The order was lifted in February because the project is now in compliance.

The issues surrounding the home continue to upset community members who have made various allegations of wrongdoing by the county, including claims of bribery that Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey said at Tuesday’s meeting that her office had looked into and determined to be unfounded.

Some Napili residents at the committee’s March 15 meeting still say they want the home torn down.

“I’m hoping we all can learn from this,” Molina said as he wrapped up discussion and deferred the matter on Tuesday. “It’s been very trying on everyone else’s part. I’m just hoping the lines of communication improves for all parties, so this way we are not being caught in the middle of any miscommunications going on. I know we are all trying our best, but we have to make sure all of us are doing things pono.”

Planning Director Michele McLean told committee members that she, too, is upset over the home, but that it is now in compliance with county law.

“The structure is huge and in a prominent location, it’s horribly out of place and I’d be upset too, if I lived in Napili,” she said. “I live in Paia and I’m upset with it.”

She noted that the community was right about the structure violating county law regarding its size and height, which led to the stop-work orders. She added that the council has updated county laws to address height concerns in the future.

The county, as it does in any other case, allowed the applicant to correct the violations and bring the home into compliance, McLean said.

“There was not and is not a sound basis to revoke permits that we had approved, or demand the demolition of a structure being built in accordance with approved permits,” she said.

“But it somehow became expectation and resulted in ridiculous, offensive, insulting and profoundly ignorant allegations. I stand behind the Planning Department’s actions in this.”

Napili resident Junya Nakoa, who the committee tapped as a resource person, said during Tuesday’s meeting that the home is still large and doesn’t look any different since the complaints were launched and changes were supposedly made.

“The building is at the hotel standard,” Nakoa said in describing its size. “The footprint never get smaller.”

He said he has received conflicting information from the Planning and Public Works departments regarding the home’s plans.

“I don’t know how the departments can say it’s OK,” he said.

The Planning Department originally gave an exemption to the dwelling in 2019, when plans showed it was 7,483 square feet. However, the department later determined that square feet of floor space for various equipment was not included in the total and that the structure exceeded the threshold of 7,500 square feet for a special management area exemption for a single-family residence in the area. The home’s original height of 45 feet was later also deemed too tall.

Because of the issues arising from the home, the Napili Bay Civic Improvement District’s building height requirements were clarified by the council last year to specify that no building could be more than two stories or 30 feet in height. Prior to the change, there had been no specific measurements listed for building height limits in the district.

McLean said Tuesday that the home has come under compliance because floor space intended to be used as a place to store maintenance equipment has been eliminated. Also, an equipment room originally set to be located next to an elevator shaft on the roof has also been eliminated.

The eliminated floor spaces as well as the removal of the equipment room on the roof have remedied the issues over exceeding square footage and height of the home, McLean said.

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

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