This is a story that asks the question, “When is an asset not an asset?”
The answer is, when it’s the more than 50 Fairways lots owned in fee by the County of Maui. These large lots are all located in Maui Lani, the up-market Kahului subdivision, where they are zoned for single-family dwellings.
The property was in the public eye again last week at a July 23 public meeting to hear community input on their future use, followed by a July 25 meeting of the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee where the topic was an agenda item.
On the face of it, the property would seem like an ideal candidate for urgently needed workforce housing, or to be sold to generate revenue to put in the affordable housing fund. With a desirable location and all the infrastructure already in place, it would seem a no-brainer to make use of this existing asset.
But, as with so many Maui land use issues, things are not always what they first appear.
The property has a convoluted and contentious history going back to 2005-2006 when the county paid over $11 million to acquire it as part of a of a complicated legal settlement. Its history includes two additional (and equally complicated) lawsuits, dumping of tons of potentially toxic fill, serious drainage issues, and the shoddy construction of a massive retaining wall which was apparently built without rebar or grout and is now crumbling. Add to that the next-to-zero maintenance in the interim, an out-of-pocket cost to Maui taxpayers that presently exceeds $12 million when all carrying costs are included, and millions in lost revenues due to tax breaks given the original developers.
And that’s just the beginning. There’s no end in sight to the expense if necessary remediation isn’t made to make the property usable and alleviate related problems on neighboring Palama Drive and Kea Street.
At the Tuesday meeting, about 40 residents – mostly neighbors in the Fairways and on Palama Drive – gave county managing director Sandy Baz an earful. Particularly direct was Palama Drive resident Annette Heu, who brought multiple display boards vividly documenting the damage wreaked in her neighborhood, such as the obstruction of the view and the dumping of 40 cubic feet of mill waste (used as fill) on the site. Heu also mentioned related flooding and drainage issues affecting Palama Drive that have dragged on for over a decade.
She told Baz, “You come here with your bright blue eyes and your slicked back hair so… you can check the box [that a public meeting was held].” But as her photos and the testimony of the neighbors revealed, there’s a lot more to resolving the issue than that.
At first Baz was skeptical, but after hearing the testimony he decided to walk the property on Wednesday and showed up early in the day with a team from the administration.
By his Thursday appearance before the EDB Committee, it was an entirely different story.
Baz’s presentation gave a detailed and cogent narrative of all the serious woes to date and what the future might hold if action to correct the longstanding deficiencies is taken. Though he could not (as yet) supply a number of how high additional costs would run, Baz exhibited a can-do attitude; even as the meeting was in progress county crews were on site making a first pass at cleaning up the mess.
Though the costs may be high, this drama might yet have a happy ending.
For once, the neighborhood, the council, and the administration all appeared to be on the same page. Mayor Victorino sent a letter dated July 25 asking the council to defer action until his administration could consider the situation, and the tone of all the councilmembers emphasized working together to make the needed improvements. EDB Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez indicated that this was just the first of a series of discussions aimed at solving the existing problems and coming up with a solution that would help alleviate the housing crisis.
Image 1 courtesy County of Maui
Image 2 by Susan Halas