Since it’s Halloween, here’s a spooky story for you: like zombies rising from the grave, two big Maui development projects that were big about a decade ago but then collapsed of their own weight are coming alive again. Honua‘ula (formerly known as Wailea 670) in South Maui and Pulelehua in West Maui were originally supposed to be up and about these days, with thousands of homes and apartments between them, but lawsuits (the former) and a lousy market (the latter) have kept them confined to the drawing board. But now that seems to be changing, though both projects are now very different from their original proposals.
Let’s look at Honua‘ula first. This is a big project that’s been decades in the making. It proposed to put 1,400 housing units, a range of commercial uses and an 18-hole golf course (because apparently there aren’t enough of those in South Maui) on 670 acres at the south end of Pi‘ilani Highway. It’s still a big project, but thanks to a lawsuit settlement announced late last week, it’s actually better now.
“After more than three years of extensive negotiations, environmental and cultural groups, Sierra Club and Maui Unite, have entered into a settlement agreement with developer Honuaʻula Partners, LLC and the County of Maui,” states an Oct. 28 press release from Sierra Club Hawaii. “The settlement calls for the protection of over 160 acres of land containing ancient Hawaiian villages, boundary markers and site complexes, as well as rare and endangered plants and animals.”
The settlement ends a claim Sierra Club Hawaii and Maui Unite filed back in 2012–four years after the Maui County Council approved Honua‘ula–challenging the project’s environmental impact statement (EIS). According to Sierra Club Hawaii, their settlement shows that initial project archaeological surveys and reports sometimes aren’t as thorough as they should be.
“Through their claim, Sierra Club and Maui Unite contended among other things that the developer’s environmental impact statement had failed to adequately address the extent of the cultural and archaeological sites and features located on the property,” states the Sierra Club Hawaii news release. “During the protracted settlement negotiations, the developer agreed to conduct further archaeological work. The archaeologists have confirmed that hundreds of significant archaeological sites or features are located on the property, including ceremonial sites, stepping stone trails, living quarters and farming terraces. Most of these sites are now confirmed for perpetual protection.”
The project settlement includes a considerable number of features, including new protections for the “historic Kanaio-Kalama road,” “specific access rights” for cultural practitioners and the public, a smaller-sized golf course, a fence to protect native vegetation from deer, a “conservation easement over the protected lands to be held by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust,” a 116-foot wide buffer between the project and Maui Meadows, a one-acre public park and a promise to turn over protected areas to as-yet unnamed nonprofit group in the future. The settlement also includes new assurances on all that workforce housing the developers promised to build as part of the project.
Given that developers generally hate to put lower income housing (which doesn’t bring in a lot of money) next to luxury homes and condos (which are fabulously lucrative), Honua‘ula developers originally planned to put their 250 units of workforce housing in North Kihei (known as the Kaonoulu site). But the Sierra Club Hawaii/Maui Unite claim stated that the developer didn’t address any impacts from shoving the development over there. According to this settlement, the Honua‘ula developer “may seek to obtain approval from the County Council to amend the original Wailea 670 project district ordinance to permit the affordable housing to be located either at the Kaonoulu site or at the Honua‘ula site, or a combination of both sites.”
Workforce housing was also a major component of Maui Land & Pineapple Company’s proposed Pulelehua project in West Maui. Situated on 304 acres around Kapalua Airport, that project was originally supposed to include around a thousand housing units. Even back in 2006, when the project went before the Maui Planning Commission, residents were appalled at the possible approval of such development in an area completely lacking in the necessary infrastructure to support such an increase in population.
“Please do not allow this project to proceed without… a requirement that a school, as well as measures to improve traffic, be in place before any construction can commence,” former Maui Planning Commissioner Louise Ross wrote in a June 1, 2006 letter to the Maui Planning Commission.
“You haven’t assessed the impact on West Maui infrastructure,” former Maui Planning Commissioner Dick Mayer warned the commission at a June 19, 2006 hearing. “There are many, many roads that need to be built.”
Well, the roads and school weren’t built, but neither was Pulelehua. The project languished until this summer, when Maui Land & Pine sold the whole thing to Dallas-based USA Infrastructure Investments (USAII, which also owns the Ma‘alaea Shops) for $15 million. On Thursday, Nov. 10, USAII will hold a 6pm public meeting at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort to talk about the rebirth of Pulelehua. According to an Oct. 26 Maui News story, the company plans to build “130 workforce rental apartment units 120 market-rate long-term rental apartment units.”
Those numbers pale when compared to Maui Land & Pine’s original project, but given the size of the land in question, future development is all but guaranteed.
Photo of Honua‘ula land: Forest and Kim Starr