It’s been said that human beings use only a fraction of their full brain potential. Ample support of this theory was on display in the Maui County Council chambers last week, during two long days of testimony and deliberation for a request to re-zone hundreds of acres of the Makena Resort.
After hearing more than seven hours of public testimony on Wednesday and deliberating for an equal amount of time the following day, seven of nine Council members cast their votes in favor of rezoning some 600 acres for an additional 1,000 high-end housing units, with 500 units of affordable housing to be built somewhere in South Maui. By voting affirmatively, the Council majority effectively overlooked or disregarded numerous big picture issues and legalities, and boiled down their reasons for support to an attempt to bolster Maui’s sagging economy.
From early on, the two days of meetings had the appearance of a runaway train—that nothing would derail or slow the committee’s intent to pass the re-zoning as quickly as possible. In the end, that’s how it played out. The proposed ordinance is scheduled to be heard twice by the full County Council for first and second reading before going to Mayor Tavares for a signature.
Early Wednesday, Council member Michelle Anderson, who along with Jo Anne Johnson voted against the proposal, quoted Robert’s Rules of Order and advice received from a Council Services attorney in stating that the committee should not be merely dusting off a vote from four years ago, containing 41 conditions of zoning in a unilateral agreement that was never signed by Seibu, then-owners of Makena Resort. She argued that those votes are now null and void, and that it is improper, if not illegal to simply reconsider conditions of a modified project with an incomplete application.
Land Use Committee Chair Michael Molina succinctly stated, “We’ll have a lot of time to work on that matter,” then dismissed it and began public testimony.
A crowd estimated as high as 400 people overflowed the Council chambers into the hallway.
The first public testifier, Jacob Mau, traced his ancestry to the Honua‘ula region that is slated for development by Makena Resort and Wailea 670/Honua‘ula Partners, which received the Council’s go-ahead to build 1,400 units earlier this year. Mau said his family has a royal patent land court award to some of the land, and questioned if the present owners have legal title.
Many testifiers spoke of the beauty, sacredness and cultural significance of the undeveloped regions, contrasting the sprawling urbanization of Kihei and Wailea. Construction jobs to build homes and condominiums for the “super-wealthy” was deemed an unwise short-term fix.
“When it’s pau [finished], it’s pau,” said Maile Lu‘uwai, who has deep family ties to the Makena area. “Your job is pau, and Makena is pau.” Lu‘uwai stressed that a great deal of archaeological studies of the area need to be undertaken and an insufficient report was submitted with the application to rezone.
Realtors Bonnie Newman and Mark Sheehan offered data from the Multiple Listing Service indicating there is already a glut of high-end housing and condos, and a stagnant market for sales. Wailea resident Mark Hyde said that the current global financial crisis means projects such as Makena are not viable. He cited shutdowns at the oceanfront Residences at Kapalua and at the Wailea Baccarat, due to withdrawal and insolvency by big money investors. Hyde also noted that all work at Makena Resort’s Maluaka condominium project (69 units, beginning at $4 million) had halted, with acres graded and laid bare while a Kona storm approached.
Board of Water Supply member Michael Howden informed committee members that “there is no water for this project, and no redundancy in the County water system.”
Project proponents mentioned the idea of a desalination plant processing water from a brackish well, while others questioned the overall cost, effects on the reef eco-system, and why the desal plant wasn’t discussed in either the zoning application or an Environmental Impact Statement issued 34 years ago, in 1974.
General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) Vice Chair Dick Mayer shared a resolution passed earlier this year stating that large projects should wait until the General Plan Revision is complete before seeking permits. “We already have more than enough entitlements,” said Mayer, noting that Makena Resort already has 150 acres with A-2 (apartment) zoning.
“One thousand units could be built today, then you’d have a good faith effort by the developer to prove what he can do before rezoning everything,” Mayer said. He added that the South Maui region has upwards of 16,000 units already permitted or partially entitled, making the claim this project is needed for jobs misleading.
“Do you think we should stop everything now, in light of the economy?” Councilmember William Medeiros asked Mayer. It was an early indication that he and fellow colleagues were buying the pleas for jobs hook, line and sinker, without a great deal of critical analysis.
Many testifiers said they were in favor of jobs the community could agree upon, such as schools, infrastructure upgrades, medical centers, affordable housing and renewable energy projects. Several speakers called for a nighttime meeting in Kihei, so project revisions could be heard by the community that would be most affected by its impacts. Nearly two years ago, developer Everett Dowling and investor Morgan-Stanley bought the resort from financially strapped Seibu Group of Japan, which originally purchased the land 30 years earlier.
Shortly before public testimony concluded Wednesday evening, Councilmember Mike Victorino flew off the handle when Daniel Grantham inquired about his relationship on the board of the Maui Economic Concerns for the Community (MECC), which operates the County’s Ka Hale O Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center. Grantham asked about a remark the Councilmember made in an April Budget Committee meeting, when Victorino said a “private party” had agreed to build 100 housing units in South Maui and would donate them. His buttons pushed and temper flaring, Victorino’s tirade ended only when Chair Molina gaveled the meeting into a quick recess.
After the break, Grantham was only allowed to state that he didn’t accuse Victorino of any wrongdoing. Before the meeting ended, Victorino’s comments indicated the “private party” was indeed developer Dowling.
Thursday’s meeting primarily saw Councilmember Anderson valiantly attempting to attach meaningful language to conditions previously agreed upon four years ago. She had success in inserting specifics about cultural inventory surveys and preservation plans, following applicable water rules, near shore water quality monitoring and other concerns.
But on the matter of complying with the County Workforce Housing Policy, her colleagues dispensed with reason and failed to follow the letter of the law, in effect shorting the people of Maui 500 affordable units. The policy, adopted two years ago, requires that a development selling units at market price of over $600,000 provide that 50 percent of all units be affordable. At the Wailea 670 project with 1,400 units, for instance, 700 affordables were required,
Yet committee members didn’t ask how only 500 affordable units would suffice for the 1,000 market price units proposed at Makena. Neither did they seek any information about where they might be built, what regional impacts might result or where the water would come from.
Instead, Council Chair Riki Hokama got testy when Housing Director Lori Tsuhako was unable to offer any insight on how to interpret the policy. “We’re stuck after two years,” Hokama spoke, “with no administrative rules. Our Managing Director needs to kick some butt to get her directors to do their jobs.” Hokama then apologized to Committee Chair Molina for his frustration.
Closing statements were a symphony of calls for jobs and the economy, and praise for developer Dowling. “This is an island developer we can hold accountable,” said Hokama. “It’s time to keep our economy going and show the rest of the state how to do it.”
“This project brings the opportunity for jobs,” said Victorino. “Affordable housing is so necessitated [sic] in that part of our county, and in fact all across the county.”
“You people on the opposing side, you didn’t lose,” continued Victorino. “You need to go to the developer and make sure he does what is right.”
Anderson’s closing statements summarized her many concerns. “I feel like we’ve done a disservice to the public by having an incomplete application and not doing a complete analysis,” she said, adding that she could not in good conscience support the rezoning.
“This isn’t about jobs,” she declared. “There’s no water. With no water, there’s no jobs.” MTW