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County to consider next steps for criticized Napili project

Council committees to mull eminent domain, investigation of approval

Two Maui County Council committees will consider the county’s next steps — including the possibility of eminent domain — for a large controversial home in Napili that has drawn scrutiny for several months over its approval process and status.

A resolution introduced by Council Member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat, seeks to authorize proceedings in eminent domain to acquire the property. The resolution suggests the property could house a public building for Hawaiian cultural education or other public purposes.

On Tuesday, the full council referred the resolution to the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee.

A second resolution introduced by Council Member Kelly King authorizes a council committee to conduct a formal investigation of the Planning and Public Works departments in relation to the county’s issuance of development approvals for the home at 5385 Lower Honoapiilani Road. The resolution was referred to the Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee.

The resolutions aim to deal with the fallout over developer Greg Brown’s eight-bedroom, two-story home, whose size caught the eye and ire of neighbors. The county issued stop-work orders over violations on the project last year but has since lifted the orders.

Planning Director Michele McLean said in a meeting with council members in March that she, too, is upset over the home, but that it had come under compliance with county law.

Residents and community members have said the developer was skirting rules and disguising a vacation rental as a single-family home.

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. 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 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.

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 as the project was founded to later be in compliance.

Issues surrounding the home continued to upset some community members who have made various allegations of wrongdoing by the county, including claims of bribery that Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey said in a council committee meeting in March that her office had looked into and determined to be unfounded.

Some Napili residents want the home torn down, claiming the county made a mistake and the house should never have been approved.

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 deemed too tall.

In March, McLean told council members in a committee meeting that the home had come under compliance because floor space intended to be used as a place to store maintenance equipment had been eliminated. Also, an equipment room originally set to be located next to an elevator shaft on the roof had also been eliminated.

Those eliminated floor spaces and removal of the equipment room on the roof remedied the issues over square footage and height, McLean said.

At least 20 written testimonies supported both resolutions before the council on Tuesday.

Josh Downer of the Napili Bay Community Association said the organization has been talking to King for a number of months regarding the investigation resolution, which he said is a “remarkable step” by the council to take action.

But he urged the council to hire special counsel, an outside attorney, to assist with the investigation.

Downer said he has friends in the Department of Corporation Counsel that he respects professionally, but said those attorneys do not have the independence to advise the council and that the corporation counsel has been doing the “bidding” of the Planning Department.

Downer also thanked Paltin for her resolution and her “decisive action” to not let the project continue on in its current form.

Lahaina resident Kanamu Balinbin was uneasy about the resolution to acquire the property through eminent domain, saying it “will cost a bunch of money” and adding that he was not sure if it was the “right thing to do.”

But he said something needs to be done about the house that residents have been fighting against for a while.

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

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