Waipuilani project moves forward despite concerns
Fast-track housing proposal now heads to full council
Weighing issues over flooding and location with the critical need for affordable housing, a Maui County Council committee ultimately decided to recommend a fast-track project in Kihei on Monday.
The Affordable Housing Committee voted 6-2 in favor of the Hale Waipuilani Workforce Housing Project with modifications, with some council members reversing course after initially opposing it in a 4-4 vote amid residents’ concerns regarding flooding in South Maui, increased density and traffic around Waipuilani and environmental and cultural impacts to suspected wetlands on-site.
Council Chairperson Alice Lee said “I’m going to have to make that unpopular decision” to support the 1.53-acre Hale Waipuilani Workforce Housing Project that would build 28 for-sale multifamily units because “we are in a housing crisis.”
“I would like to see this project move forward and trust that the departments, when they go through their approval process, they’ll take into consideration and basically follow what the code requires them to do, so that it’s safe and addresses some of the concerns that were brought up,” Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura said.
The units would be constructed just mauka of South Kihei Road at 16 E. Waipuilani Road, on a parcel of land bounded by East Waipuilani Road to the north and Kauha’a 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 floor areas ranging from 450 square feet to 1,400 square feet in size, said Lawrence Carnicelli, vice president of development for Alaula Builders.
Homeowners must earn between 80 to 140 percent of the area median income to qualify and would have a deed restriction of 10 years.
Of the 28 units, eight (30 percent) will be sold to “low-moderate” income residents, with unit prices ranging from $299,000 to $404,000; 14 units (50 percent) will be sold to “moderate income” residents, with prices ranging from $444,000 to $571,000; and six (20 percent) of the units will be sold to “above-moderate” income residents, with prices ranging between $618,000 and $667,000.
Carnicelli said Monday that their active buyers list contains about 1,270 residents.
“I think everybody knows what the demand is here on Maui,” he added.
And, since the committee meeting last week, Carnicelli said they received over 400 petition signatures from the community saying they were in favor of the Hale Waipuilani Workforce Housing Project.
Though in a flood zone with a base elevation of 6 feet above sea level, which was a concern among many testifiers and council members last week, the buildings are situated at an elevation of at least 7 feet, or between 1 and 3 feet above the ground, Carnicelli said.
The property is also protected by retaining walls, rock and concrete walls, and on-site retention basins, said project engineer Stacy Otomo, adding that current flood and drainage plans are anticipated to “decrease the amount of runoff that comes off the property onto the neighboring property.”
Council Members Lee, Sugimura, Tasha Kama, Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci and Keani Rawlins-Fernandez voted in support of the project with modifications, while Council Members Kelly Takaya King and Mike Molina voted in opposition.
Committee Chairperson Gabe Johnson was excused from Monday’s meeting.
“If it’s an entitled piece of property where there’s going to be houses on it one way or the other, my vote is with affordable housing. My top choice would be no housing whatsoever because of the issues in the area,” Paltin said. “Although the property may not flood itself and although it would mitigate the water, supposedly, from going onto the neighbors’ property, how are these people going to get out if South Kihei Road is flooded? It seems to me that the choice is between affordable housing or speculator housing.”
A bit hesitant given community concerns and possible environmental impacts, Rawlins-Fernandez agreed that inaction by the council would not favor workforce housing needs and possibly open space for market-price homes for out-of-state buyers or short-term rentals.
“I would like to see this parcel preserved as a wetlands, so if we can figure out some kind of feasible land swap, I would be supportive of that, but for today, I will be supporting (the project),” she said.
Describing project plans as a “no-win situation,” Molina and King were still not supportive as they referenced the pushback from South Maui neighbors.
“It’s a matter of location, location, location,” said Molina, who oversaw the meeting as the committee’s vice chairperson. “Do we want to continue putting people in places like this, where we’re a moment away from a potential big flood or God forbid, a major disaster?”
King, who holds the South Maui residency seat, said the project was “not appropriate” for the area.
“This doesn’t mean, as I said before, that these aren’t good developers,” said King. “They have some other projects in the community that are very appropriate that were supported by the community. … My whole thing has been to put people and the environment over profits, and I understand that we are always looking for more affordable housing, but we can’t just be running rampant and putting it in areas that are flood zones and that are potential wetlands.
“I think it’s also sad that we put affordable housing in these areas that are less than desirable to live in,” King added.
The committee was initially split on whether to disapprove the project, with Molina, King, Sinenci and Rawlins-Fernandez voting to disapprove and Lee, Sugimura, Kama and Paltin voting to approve.
Since the motion to disapprove did not pass on the 4-4 vote, members then had to vote on approving the project with or without modifications.
Some changed their minds thereafter to move the project forward, along with its exemptions, but with a few modifications, including making the units owner-occupied in perpetuity; giving discretion to the county Department of Public Works relating to the exemptions on roadway improvements; and designating Vernon Kalanikau, who is a lineal and cultural descendant of the area, or his designee, as an adviser during the construction.
A final decision will be made by the full council in the near future before the July 17 deadline, Molina said.
“I agree with all that my colleagues have said, but one thing I’d say is that maybe that means 28 families that don’t have to leave Hawaii,” said Kama. “That we get 28 families that get to stay home and not have to leave because there’s no place for them to live.”
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at email@example.com.