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Committee backs probe of two county departments

Planning officials say issues spurring calls for inquiry already addressed

One Main Plaza in Wailuku, where county Planning Department offices are located, stands at the corner of Main and North High streets on Wednesday. A Maui County Council committee is recommending a formal investigation into the Planning and Public Works departments over approval of a Napili project that spurred community backlash. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Maui County Council members moved one step further on Wednesday in greenlighting a formal investigation into two county departments over approvals for a large controversial home in Napili that has angered community members and spurred calls for an investigation.

The council’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee voted 6-0 in recommending that the council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee conduct the investigation of the Planning and Public Works departments.

If the investigation is approved by the full council, the findings and recommendations will be due by the end of the year.

The proposal aims to deal with the fallout over developer Greg Brown’s eight-bedroom, two-story house on Lower Honoapiilani Road in Napili whose size caught the attention of neighbors in 2021. 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.

A Maui County Council committee voted on Wednesday to recommend an investigation of two county departments over approval of a Napili home that community members raised concerns over.

Residents and community members allege that the developer was skirting rules with the home and have also been alleging corruption in county departments.

Last month, the council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee voted to recommend a resolution authorizing proceedings in eminent domain for the county to acquire the property. The resolution calling for eminent domain is up for first reading by the full council on Friday.

Committee Chairwoman Kelly Takaya King, who introduced the resolution requesting the investigation, said during the vote on Wednesday that “I think it’s time we move forward with this idea of doing this special investigation so we can all get to some kind of truth on the record.”

King, who said that she worked with the Napili Bay Community Association on the legislation, also thanked committee members for their amendments, saying “I think we honed this into a better resolution.”

Council Member Tamara Paltin made various amendments, including correcting information discussing the home’s review process. She along with Council Member Mike Molina suggested changes so the resolution reflects that the investigation by the council will be an objective one.

Molina and Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura said the resolution in its original form may imply that the council had already taken a position on the matter.

“I do want us to be objective as we receive facts,” Sugimura said, adding that a lot of emotions have gotten stirred up among neighbors and others are concerned about this occurring again.

“Let’s get this going and find solutions so this does not happen again,” she said.

Paltin said her committee will be on the clock to get the investigation done and urged cooperation from members of the public who said they have information to share.

“I would ask the testifiers who are claiming to have these additional documents (about the departments) if they can submit them ASAP,” Paltin said.

She said the committee and the investigation will be relying on folks whom the council does not have subpoena power over. The council does have subpoena power over current county employees but not over former employees or the public.

During public testimony, Planning Director Michele McLean asked that there not be a formal investigation but that discussions continue in committee in an open public format.

(King later said that the investigation will be held openly in committee).

“Before conducting a ‘formal investigation,’ it would be worth your Committee’s (or any other committee’s) time to have a more complete understanding of the issues and how they have been addressed. It is likely that you will conclude that an investigation is not needed,” McLean said in a written letter submitted to the committee.

McLean acknowledged at the meeting that while the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee has met seven times on the issue, it’s hard to give full answers with time restrictions.

But if the CARE committee were to push forward the formal investigation, she asked that the resolution be corrected for its errors and inaccuracies.

McLean also said the issues facing the Napili home, such as the structure’s use, height and square footage and the home’s makai wall, “have been fully addressed.”

She said it has been established that transient vacation rental use is not permitted for the home.

McLean said the community was correct in saying the home had excess square footage and story height, which was confirmed through county investigation. But now that excess square footage and height have been removed.

The makai wall on the property was given after-the-fact permits after an application was made for the structure, she said.

“All four issues have been appropriately resolved,” McLean told committee members. “Perhaps not to the community’s expectation of having permits revoked or the building torn down, but those were unrealistic expectations that did not have a legal foundation.”

Jordan Hart, who was the deputy planning director at the time the issues unfolded, also told the committee that all the information about what happened is “out there” in the public. Hart is now the chief of the Planning Department’s Zoning Administration and Enforcement Division.

“I just think it’s kind of just trying to draw out something that’s been done and presented,” Hart said of the proposed investigation.

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

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