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State land panel OKs Pulelehua project in West Maui

KAHULUI — The state Land Use Commission gave the green light to a drastically different version of a West Maui housing and commercial project that increases affordable housing and rentals and lays out several guides to keep units affordable over long term.

Hailing the project as setting a framework for future development, the panel voted unanimously Thursday morning on a request by landowner Maui Oceanview LP to make changes that would allow rentals and other alterations to the original project proposal, which dates back to 2006.

Pulelehua, slated for 304 acres below Kapalua Airport, will now include 500 affordable housing and rental units, along with 500 market-rate units.

“To sit here yesterday and to see the same people that were outraged, come forward, residents, community leaders, council members, unanimously in support of this project, was just incredible — that doesn’t happen easily,” Commissioner Dan Giovanni said Thursday before the vote. “I think this represents an incredible model for affordable housing that could be duplicated at other locations, not only on Maui, but across the state. I hope that happens.”

When the commission originally approved the project in 2006, developer Maui Land & Pineapple Co. agreed to make 450 of the 882 units affordable for Pulelehua.

Paul Cheng, president of Maui Oceanview LP, purchased Pulelehua with all of its land entitlements in 2016 and sought to reduce the number of affordable units to 280 with 520 market-rate units. The proposed reduction of affordable units from 51 percent of total units to 31 percent incensed testifiers at an LUC meeting in late September.

At the September meeting, Cheng said that the reduction in affordable units was necessary because the 51 percent was “not economical.” The panel deferred action and urged Cheng to engage with the West Maui community.

Cheng, along with community leaders, hashed out a settlement agreement over the next months that would increase affordables and secure them over the long term. Many who spoke in opposition of the project in September came forward to strongly support it Wednesday.

The next step is with the county, and project district requests may be submitted within the next three months, according to attorney Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, who represents Cheng. Cheng said if county approval occurs, the project could break ground by late summer.

“Today’s judgement by the (state Land Use Commission) starts a new day on Maui — how community and developers can work together to bring affordable housing to our people,” said Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, executive consultant of Go Maui.

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