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Housing project in flood zone a concern for Kihei residents

Council has until July 17 to make a decision on fast-track proposal

A map shows the proposed location of the Hale Waipuilani Workforce Housing Project, a 28-unit multifamily housing development on 1.5 acres in Kihei. Neighbors are concerned that the project site, which is bounded by East Waipuilani Road to the north and Kauhaa Street to the south, will be subject to the floodwaters that inundate the area during storms. Graphic courtesy of Bagoyo Development Consulting Group

While acknowledging that affordable housing is needed in Maui County, residents are concerned that a 28-unit housing project is being proposed for the “wrong location,” a spot in Kihei subject to major flooding and traffic.

The Hale Waipuilani Workforce Housing Project would be located at 16 East Waipuilani Road and is one of the 36 “priority projects” outlined in the Maui County Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan. The 100 percent affordable project would consist of 28 for-sale multifamily housing units with a deed restriction of 10 years for households earning between 80 to 140 percent of the area median income.

“I am for affordable housing, but this project in its density where it’s at, I am opposed, I’m against it,” said Kihei resident Jennifer Chapman, who lives across from the project site. “Everyone who has opposed it has really great reasoning — the flooding, there’s no parking for that many people, there’s no street lights around here, so I have to wear a nighttime reflector at night so cars can see me walking down the road because there’s also no sidewalks.”

Chapman added that the proposed plans don’t do future homeowners justice at that location.

“I think it can be a great situation or housing somewhere else that’s not in a flood zone,” she said on Monday during a Maui County Council Affordable Housing Committee meeting.

According to developer Alaula Builders and property owner Van Bruce Investments LLC, the 1.53-acre parcel would be constructed near South Kihei Road, bounded by East Waipuilani Road to the north and Kauhaa Street to the south — these two streets would be the access points.

There are one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units being proposed, with sizes ranging from 450 square feet to 1,400 square feet. Fifty-nine parking spaces will be provided for the project and possible additional parking space for guests.

The project report said the Hale Waipuilani site is outside of the sea level rise hazard and coastal erosion exposure areas but is situated in a flood zone with a base flood elevation of 6 feet.

Over 20 people testified during the meeting, with most living in South Maui, including along Waipuilani. They said they support affordable housing projects, but this one in particular is slated for a “terrible location” and is “totally inappropriate.”

Neighboring resident Suzanne Dorn said the project will create overcrowding from its “unrealistic design” and zoning change requests, while Lloyd Johnson, who lives adjacent to the project site, said that the units would impact his privacy and create more traffic on Kauhaa Street.

“Predictably, the property owners there will have to trudge through ankle-deep water from home to car for several days following seasonal heavy rains,” Johnson added. “There will be a lot of buyer’s remorse.”

Residents recalled how a major storm just six months ago inundated the area with floodwaters and mud.

“This area is basically a flood zone. Even a small rain event in Kihei brings large amounts of water and mud to this area,” said longtime South Maui resident Mary Trotto. “The December Kona low storm brought a tremendous amount of mud in the area, closing South Kihei Road for a period of time. … Our workforce housing residents deserve better.”

Longtime builder and inspector Christopher Hamman, who also lives near the project site, said that construction is going to be “a nightmare” for the developers.

“My concern is, when we get the next storm, and these guys are under construction, where is that debris gonna go? It’s just going to clog up our systems, we’re going to have traffic backed up,” Hamman said.

Since the project is in a flood hazard area, the homeowners association will be responsible for flood insurance, according to project documents.

The monthly HOA fees are estimated to be $340 per unit and would cover grounds maintenance, building and common elements maintenance, property insurance, reserve fund, common water refuse and utility.

“I think all that is just gonna go up when the real cost of flood insurance and maintenance of that drainage infrastructure come into play,” said Robin Knox, a South Maui environmental scientist and water quality expert who added that this site could potentially hold up to 2.25 million gallons of flood water. “I think this whole thing looks like an environmental injustice.”

Some supporters, like realtor Donna Ting, said that “we desperately need” more affordable housing projects on Maui.

“Workforce housing is the heart of the community,” said Ting, adding that she receives three to five calls and emails from Maui residents every day asking for assistance to purchase a home. “This is a very, very important project.”

The Maui County Department of Fire and Public Safety, Department of Environmental Management and Department of Water Supply said Monday that they have no concerns with the current proposed project plans.

The developers have applied under the county’s fast-track process and are requesting a list of exemptions relating to planning, zoning, fees, construction standards for development and land improvements, and the construction of dwelling units.

“I don’t like the idea of continuously ignoring community plans or overriding them, otherwise what’s the use of having a community plan?” Council Member Kelly King said. “We’re in the middle of the next community plan, so you know, it’s kind of up to the community to decide if we keep it to single-family or if we allow for more dense areas.”

Maui County Director of Public Works Jordan Molina said that the department recommends not accepting project exemptions relating to frontage improvements, like road widening or sidewalks along Kauhaa Street.

Affordable Housing Committee Chairperson Gabe Johnson and Council Chairperson Alice Lee also expressed concerns over the site’s location, including drainage plans and flooding impacts.

The meeting was recessed to 9 a.m. Monday, when council members hope to make a recommendation on the project.

Because the project is under the fast-track process, the council must make a decision by July 17 or the Hale Waipuilani Workforce Housing project will be deemed approved.

“We want to build affordable housing for local families,” said Lawrence Carnicelli, vice president of development for Alaula Builders.

If it doesn’t get approved, he said, then “we’ll have to reassess and figure out what we’re going to do.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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