When most people think of a plan, they probably imagine a one-sheet, perhaps with a clear and unambiguous map or schematic attached. Weighing in at 342 pages, with detailed maps, photos, graphs, tables, charts and appendices and nearly impenetrable text, the Maui Island Plan is something altogether different.
Put simply, the plan is a thorough look at the future of Maui over the next generation. In discussion and development since 2006, the plan holds great promise for those who want to see rational and equitable development on an island marked by tremendous land use contrasts.
“One particular facet of Maui was prioritized by nearly everyone who participated in our community meetings,” states the plan’s Executive Summary, drafted in December, 2009. “[T]he desire to maintain the small towns and open countryside that is such a large part of who and what Maui is, while at the same time providing vibrant urban areas that will provide an equally positive quality of life for those who make their lives in our larger towns.”
As has been well reported in the Maui News, the Maui Island Plan is also years behind schedule. After countless public hearings and discussions of the plan by both the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) and the Maui Planning Commission, it stalled in the Maui County Council’s General Plan Committee. The council elected in 2008 took up the Maui Island Plan, but only got as far as Chapter 7 before their terms expired.
Incoming General Plan Committee Chairwoman Gladys Baisa (her predecessor, Sol Kaho‘ohalahala, was turned out of office in 2010) decided to start over. As a result, the council’s General Plan Committee has finally stopped covering old ground (though as you’ll see below, that doesn’t mean the plan’s text hasn’t changed in disturbing ways). On Feb. 2, the committee begins examining the sure-to-be controversial Chapter 8–“Directed Growth Plan.” It’s the plan’s most regulatory section, which includes 10 maps showing proposed “urban growth boundaries” that will make explicit where land developers can build. Future hearings will take up the proposed boundaries of each of the island’s regions in turn.
To get a handle on such an intimidating planning document–and an explanation as to why the Maui Island Plan is so important–we spoke with GPAC member Lucienne de Naie. De Naie and the rest of GPAC became intimately familiar with the Maui Island Plan’s evolution.
MAUITIME: We can’t believe the County Council’s General Plan Committee is finally going to start breaking new ground, so to speak, on the plan.
LUCIENNE DE NAIE: The people who went to the GPAC meetings, the Planning Commission meetings–I think they’re wondering why it isn’t done yet.
MT: Do you have a sense that things are going well?
DE NAIE: It’s good they’re finally getting near the end, but will people even know what’s happening? You know, there were 40 pages of names of the people who testified at GPAC on this. Our meetings were on evenings and weekends. But the council meets during the day, and only really gets developers and their representatives to attend. It’s disappointing to those of us who were on GPAC.
MT: Why is it important that we do the Maui Island Plan?
DE NAIE: The state mandates that we do a general plan. If it’s done right, it will be something that will guide the people in the Planning Department. And they’ve told me that they want guidance. The document will say, these are our priorities. If you want to change them later, you have to amend the plan.
You know, there are some very innovative ideas, especially in the economic section. Things like, if we’re importing something, can we look at maybe creating it here? We may not be able to, but at least we have it as a goal.
I did a little talk at the Rotary Club, and I read some of the text from the economic section. I was mobbed by people. “Great ideas!” they said. “That would really help!” I think they were shocked that there was more to the plan than just bringing more tourists here. Which we can’t really do any more than we’re already doing.
MT: Why is that?
DE NAIE: Because one out of every three people on Maui right now is a tourist. One third of the island’s population at any given time is tourist. On Kauai, it’s more like one out of nine.
MT: How have you seen the plan evolve?
DE NAIE: I’ve watched the council soften the language. Councilmembers Sol [Kahoohalahala] and Wayne [Nishiki] made a lot of substantial stands to keep language that had been vetted by the public process. There was also a push to keep the plan more general, saying that specifics should be reserved for the community plans, which are still eight years away.
MT: Actually, that’s a lot. Let’s start with the language part. What do you mean by “soften?”
DE NAIE: I mean water down the language. Watery language gives no guidance to the Planning Department. For instance, changing the word “require” to “encourage,” as in “encourage buildings to be resilient against natural catastrophes.” Encourage? What does that mean? There’s no protocol for the Planning Department to “encourage” someone. Some things should be required. “Encourage” just isn’t the right word when it comes to, say, wetlands. There’s also no definition for “encourage” in the plan [the Glossary section of the Maui Island Plan doesn’t actually appear in the document posted on the County of Maui’s website for the general public].
MT: And you see that happening a lot in the plan?
DE NAIE: “Encourage,” “consider,” “suggest”–when you use words like that, planners wonder if it’s even worth their while to bring these things up.
There was an earlier provision to prohibit gated communities. People thought they just didn’t fit into Maui life, and we put in language to prohibit them. That’s been changed to “consider regulating” gated communities.
MT: What’s the danger here?
DE NAIE: Confusion. When you have plans with clear language, it’s easier to make decisions. Some people don’t like that because clear language can limit decisions. Clear language can be restrictive.
But clear language protects the commons. Many of us old-timers aren’t ready to relinquish that concept. But fuzzy language also hurts private property.
For years, people have tried to get developers to provide notifications to neighbors when they build ag subdivisions of more than four lots. It makes to give notice to these people, because they know the rain and traffic patterns and so forth. And giving notice isn’t expensive, either: it costs, what, $100 for a sign?
But the language in the plan requiring developers to give notice has been watered down. It’s not gone, but it’s watered down. The plan now says developers should “consider” giving notice. That’s not the same thing as requiring them.
MT: Ok, now let me play Devil’s advocate. Why shouldn’t specifics like those be reserved for community plans?
DE NAIE: Well, some of what they’re planning spans two community plan districts. For instance, people on the North Shore want a regional park. Part of that is in the Wailuku plan, part of that is in the Paia plan. If you want to talk about a bike path there, then you have to include the Makawao plan. Same thing for the Upcountry road: some of it is Upcountry, some is in Kihei. We need a regional approach.
MT: Alright. The County Council’s General Plan Committee is finally at the point where they’ll discuss “urban growth boundaries” for the first time. What are these?
DE NAIE: They were developed in the last 15, 20 years as part of “New Urbanism.” This process gives a rough sketch of Maui development. Then, within these lines, what do people want? People could build outside the boundaries, there would have to be huge public demand first.
Yes, I understand that it costs a lot to bring development on line. Maui’s infrastructure is old and outdated. As I like to say, we’re building a resort economy on plantation infrastructure.
MT: So the growth boundaries will come up for discussion on Feb. 2?
DE NAIE: No. The Feb. 2 meeting will not discuss any maps. That will begin Feb. 16 after [planning director] Will Spence submits his maps!
Also, it’s really disturbing that a plan which up until last week had several categories of growth boundaries now has just two: Urban and Rural. Obviously, One size does not fit all of our diverse communities.
But six days before the meeting the public found out about this radical change to language, which had broad support from community testimony was reviewed and adopted by GPAC and the Maui Planning Commission and was supported by two planning directors and county planning staff. Now on a week’s notice, with the public mostly unaware, it’s all proposed to change!
MT: Well, that’s depressing. Has something like this ever been tried elsewhere?
DE NAIE: Kauai did a whole community plan, but they didn’t make it enforceable. So it sits on the shelf now. We want to have a living document. We want innovative thinking.
MT: Like the possibility of making or growing things here that we currently import.
DE NAIE: Yes. Cluster development is another idea. Currently, agriculture land is divided into two-acre lots. Instead of doing that, cluster development lets the developer cluster all the housing in one section and then allows the open space to radiate outwards. It offers more flexibility–slicing and dicing ag land isn’t always the best way to keep the characteristics of the land. Cluster development is a tool if you want to support it.
MT: Sounds like, on the whole though, you’re pretty pessimistic about where the Maui Island Plan is going.
DE NAIE: There’s a lot at stake. A lot of good people with good ideas have gone into this, and in the end, some good stuff will survive. Really, I’m excited about the potential to dream a new future, dream a new economy.
MAUI ISLAND PLAN
Maui County Council General Plan Committee begins discussion of on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 1:30pm in the Council Chamber. Call 808-270-7838 for more information.
The Maui Island Plan is available online at www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?NID=1120
You can also see Maui Tomorrow’s extensive writings on the Maui Island Plan at maui-tomorrow.org/?cat=52