When Alexander & Baldwin announced back in January that they would close their Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S) mill in Pu`unene–the last operating sugar mill in the state of Hawaii–nervous eyes looked around the island. What would become of the land? they asked. Company officials announced that some manner of “diversified agriculture” would be their prime focus, but given that HC&S holdings amounted to 37,000 acres, most people probably assumed that some sort of commercial and residential development would also account for the land’s future.
And it’s a lot of land. Above my office desk is a large Hawaii State Office of Planning GIS map of Maui showing all the island’s large land-holdings. Virtually the entire center portion of the Maui-the island’s narrow neck that runs from Kahului Harbor to Haiku to Ma`alaea–is colored beige for Alexander & Baldwin. But today, given Maui’s land-use statutes, codes and general plan (which includes the Maui Island Plan and six community plans), A&B simply can’t decree that they’re building estates and condos on all their land. The island’s laws relating to the General Plan (2.80B), which contain growth boundaries that have the force and effect of law, make clear where development can and can’t go. Unless officials change Chapter 2.80B of the County Code, development options of all that land remain managed through the island’s directed growth strategy.
Oh, look at this: in the Nov. 6 Maui News, Maui County Planning Director Will Spence and Deputy Director Michele Chouteau McLean signed an op-ed piece that advocates exactly that:
Anyone who followed the recent Lanai and Molokai community plan updates knows that the current process is broken. At virtually every meeting on the Lanai plan, County Council members and the public told Planning Committee Chair Don Couch that “we need to fix this process!” Instead of continuing or perpetuating everyone’s dissatisfaction through the seven remaining plans, beginning with West Maui, our long-range planning staff has temporarily shifted their energies from preparing a draft West Maui plan to evaluating our governing statutes and researching how planners in other places prepare long-range plans for their communities.
“Evaluating our governing statutes.” Language like this should chill every Maui County resident. Consider this Arakawa Administration’s official response to The Maui News‘ Oct. 16 revelation that Mayor Alan Arakawa told the Planning Department to stop working on community plans–a decision Maui County Council Planning Committee chairperson Don Couch told the paper “parallels what I was saying.”
To be clear (although Spence and McLean are not in their op-ed piece), they’re talking about rewriting County Code Chapter 2.80B–General Plan and Community Plans. That chapter makes clear that Maui’s community plans are solid:
The purpose and intent of this chapter is to establish an improved process to update the general plan and community plans. This chapter is designed to provide plans that clearly identify provisions that are meant to be policy guidelines and provisions that are intended to have the force and effect of law [emphasis added]; to implement and enforce plans through prioritization and accountability; to empower advisory committees; to place more emphasis on island‐wide and inter‐regional issues; to encourage more frequent updates of plans and to establish deadlines for completion; and to increase public and community participation in the planning process.
The op-ed also contains this telling phrase, though it’s given without proper context: “We simply do not have the staff resources to pursue this initiative and continue work on the West Maui plan simultaneously.” That’s certainly true. The Maui Planning Department does not have the staff to do all this, because the Long Range Division has shrunk in recent years.
The Feb. 26, 2014 Lanai plane crash that killed Planning Department personnel Kathleen Kern and Tremaine Balberdi (as well as pilot Richard Rooney) made things even worse for the department. Kern was a planner and Balberdi was a secretary. The crash also seriously injured planner Doug Miller and GIS analyst Mark King.
That crash–which clearly played a role in the reason as to why the Lanai Community Plan took so long to get done–never seems to factor into the Arakawa Administration’s talk (or even the op-ed by Spence and McLean) about how the planning process “is broken.”
Repeat after me: The. Process. Isn’t. Broken.
The department that is tasked with carrying out the process has been hobbled, but that’s an administration problem. You don’t need to change the County Code to fix that.
Click here to read Spence and McLean’s Op-ed.
Photo: Forest & Kim Starr/Flickr