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Committee recommends acquiring Napili home by eminent domain

Owner is ‘open to working with the county’ on a solution; mayor raises concerns over cost

A two-story, eight-bedroom home in Napili is shown under construction in early May. A Maui County Council committee on Tuesday recommended a resolution that would allow the county to acquire the property through eminent domain after community members raised concerns over the home’s size and approval process. The owner of the property maintains that he has been building the project in compliance with county-approved plans. He said Tuesday that he is “open to working with the county” to find a solution. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Calling it another “tool” to help remedy the controversy over a large Napili home under construction, a Maui County Council committee on Tuesday advanced a resolution that would allow the county to take steps to obtain the property through eminent domain.

The resolution recommended for approval by the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee now heads to the full council for approval.

Proposed by Council Member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat where the home is located, the resolution comes in response to neighbors and public outcry over the large home at 5385 Lower Honoapiilani Road that has drawn scrutiny for more than a year over its approval process and status. The home’s plan includes two swimming pools, eight bedrooms and 14 bathrooms.

“We are just considering all of the options to meet the community’s requests,” Paltin said of the resolution, which does not have the force and effect of law.

Community members have said the home, built by developer Greg Brown, should be torn down and used for a public purpose.

Paltin said acquiring the property through eminent domain is one option, with the potential to have a community center there for cultural education or other public purposes. She noted that only the administration has the power to file a lawsuit for eminent domain and the resolution will give them the option. The administration could also acquire the property by negotiating with its owner, she added.

While the resolution still needs an approval from the full council, Brown’s attorney, Jeffrey Ueoka, said in an email Tuesday afternoon, “Mr. Brown is open to working with the county on reaching a reasonable resolution.”

Mayor Michael Victorino said the potential costs of acquiring the property still need to be considered.

“While I can understand the committee’s decision, I think it is premature because the full financial impact of initiating such proceedings needs to be weighed against other priorities, such as affordable housing,” Victorino said in an email Tuesday afternoon.

In supporting the resolution, Council Chairwoman Alice Lee said during the vote: “This has been a huge mistake, and blame as you know, can be spread around very widely, probably even the council, everybody. Now is the time to look for a reasonable solution and the solution seems to be, once and for all, have the county control this property so that we don’t have any more issues with misinterpretations and people taking advantage of laws that are not strict enough.”

Lee said the county should pay “a reasonable price” for the property determined by an appraisal and the community should let the council know what they would like to see on the property.

She later added that what could make “economic sense” is using the property for rental workforce housing, in which tenants would pay rent, with the county able to make up for the costs of purchasing the property.

“This additional tool will provide the administration an option, and to hopefully bring some formal closure down the road to address this matter,” committee Chairman Mike Molina said.

Molina said that hopefully the approval process for these types of projects will be more transparent in the future.

In a news release Tuesday afternoon, Molina said his committee has met eight times over the past year to hear from the public and county officials on concerns regarding the home.

Testifiers at the meeting on Tuesday morning also supported the resolution.

Junya Nakoa, a community member who took up the public charge to look into the home’s approval process, said “I support the decision to do ‘um (eminent domain). I wish we did it last year, 18 months ago.”

He said a “good” investigation should be done on the matter, alleging that issues will be found with the county administration’s process along with Brown’s representations. Maui County Planning Director Michele McLean acknowledged earlier this month that there were flaws in the way the department handled the issue.

Nakoa said Napili residents “are sick and tired of looking at” the house.

Another testifier, Brad Salter, said the home should have not been approved in the first place and alleged that making it a vacation rental home has been the plan from the beginning.

“I really appreciate you taking the step to look at eminent domain to recapture that area for the community, and take care of the people in the community,” Salter said.

He added, “I drive by there every day and every day I shudder when I see the size of this building, that’s basically eclipsing everything else in Napili Bay.”

It was the size of the home under construction and concerns over it becoming a vacation rental that caught neighbors’ attention last year. The county issued stop-work orders to the project over violations but has since lifted them after the home later came under compliance with county law, planning officials said.

Community members have alleged the developer was skirting rules and disguising a vacation rental as a single-family home. Brown, whose attorneys have 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.

Planning Director Michele McLean told The Maui News last year that the county informed Brown that a short-term rental is not currently allowed.

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

A resolution to authorize a council committee to conduct a formal investigation of the Planning and Public Works departments in relation to the county’s issuance of development approval of the home has been referred to the council’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee.

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

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