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Residents voice opposition to Kaanapali Golf Course Revitalization Project

By Staff | May 18, 2017

LAHAINA – It was standing room only at the West Maui Senior Center in Lahaina last week Wednesday (May 10) at the public information meeting on the proposed Kaanapali Golf Course Revitalization Project.

Plans to reconfigure the 305-acre, two championship, 18-hole golf courses, owned by the State of Hawaii Employees’ Retirement System, were presented to area resort residents and concerned Mauians, and they were given the opportunity to testify.

Lowe Enterprises is the project manager for the Kaanapali Golf Course reconfiguration project. Munekiyo Hiraga is the planning consultant. The Wailuku urban planning and management-consulting firm has prepared an Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice published by the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) on May 8.

According to the state source, “In total, approximately 51 acres of the project area will be repositioned from golf to other uses. Updated golf holes and improved landscaping, park areas and open space will encompass the remaining 113 acres of the project area.”

The reconfiguration also incorporates the addition of commercial space – restaurant, clubhouse and high-end retail – and residential, condominium and hotel units into the venture.

The proposed actions will require that the West Maui Community Plan Land Use Map be amended and the respective underlying county zoning designations be changed. Additionally, the proposed revitalization improvements may require that work be performed within government roadway rights-of-way.

Testimony heard at the community hall last Wednesday night will be included in the Environmental lmpact Statement; and, as a matter of fact, the bulk of the comments voiced were in opposition to the project.

Traffic fears were at the top of the list.

Kaanapali resident Dave Senior was articulate. “This is my opinion; I lived in LA for 32 years, and I moved to Kaanapali. I know what LA traffic is like. I know what it’s like to sit on 405; and people come here to spend their money to generate the highest rack rate, tax revenues for the state and to go to restaurants and to play golf and do other things like that, because they’re not sitting on 405.

“We’re seeing traffic like we’ve never seen. And I think I don’t care if you spend $55 million or a billion dollars making this into the resort of the resorts. If people can’t get access over here, they’re not gong to come anymore,” he cautioned.

A Kaanapali Ali’i resident agreed with Senior’s assessment.

“The elephant in the room is traffic. The traffic engineer at the meeting said there is going to be a three to four percent increase in traffic. There isn’t room on this island for one-tenth of one percent traffic increase on Honoapiilani highway,” he proclaimed.

Local author Norm Bezane was quite frank: “You say that you are going to look at the road situation. We don’t want you to look at the road situation; we want you to do something about the road situation.”

Other testimony given about the boondoggle project raised more questions than were answered.

One resident asked, “You mentioned that these other golf course areas – Kapalua and Wailea – are doing these things to enhance their golf courses. I don’t see that. I’d like to know what you think they’ve done that enhance the Wailea-Kapalua golf courses, because I don’t see any new construction up there that’s enhancing those golf courses.”

Senior vowed golf is alive. “I don’t know if I believe golf’s dead yet. I do know that the Tiger era is over. I do know that the new millennials are thinking about playing video games and not going out and playing golf and all that stuff.

“But I think quality in the golf industry will continue. When you have a legitimate Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf course here, you’re not renovating; you’re eliminating. This is going to be a Rees Jones Golf Course that you’re putting in. I just think that it’s too early to write the obituary for golf forever.”

Some questioned the impact on their quality of life.

Beth Hill is a full-time resident of the destination resort; she works as an administrative assistant in Lahaina.

“I see that your plan says it’s a revitalization plan; Kaanapali is a very vital place right now. I don’t think we need the kind of revitalization this is going to bring. I have a very nice quality of life right now in Kaanapali Resort.

“I don’t need luxury high-end retail. I don’t need a restaurant. I don’t need parking lots in front of my buildings. This is not going to improve the quality of my life as I have it right now. It is going to decrease the quality of my life.”

Hill was also worried about the loss of open space.

“I’ve read the West Maui Community Plan (1996), and the community got together and said in writing how much it values open space view-sheds down to the ocean; your plan will decimate those kinds of things,” she warned.

Carolyn Ruszkiewicz has been a homeowner at Maui Eldorado since 1987. She is a retired journalist.

“I worked as a reporter for 15 years and then 18 years as an editor (feature editor, city editor, assistant managing editor and managing editor) for a medium-size California daily newspaper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram,” she said.

Her voice was reasonable.

“Our opposition to the proposed development is not based on an individual view issue. We have a garden view studio that looks out at the parking structure and the pool deck, so the proposal won’t affect our view. But we are greatly concerned about what such a massive project would do to the quality of life in the Kaanapali/Lahaina areas.”

Additionally, she had some pertinent questions about conflict of interest she posed to the Lahaina News after the meeting.

“In all of my years in the newspaper business, I cannot think of a single development project where the people examining the worthiness of a proposal are the very same people who stand to benefit if the project goes forward.

“I know that the council members are elected officials,” Ruszkiewicz continued, “but I also believe that the preliminary work in evaluating the environmental impact of this project will be done by government employees in the planning and traffic departments who are beneficiaries of the state pension fund.

“I am not meaning to impugn the integrity of anyone,” Ruszkiewicz advised, “but I think that county officials at least need to acknowledge the appearance of a conflict of interest when it comes to this specific project and address how they intend to handle that issue.”

Kai Nishiki’s comments at the meeting reflected the local point of view.

Her singular observation of the impact of “Area 4” on the West Side community was spot-on target.

This section of the development is situated across Honoapiilani Highway, immediately above Hanakao’o Beach Park, with multi-family or single-family ocean view residences planned.

“That beach park that you guys are planning on building something – big homes right across the street from Canoe Beach – that right there is the lifeblood for canoe clubs all over Lahaina, all over the state. That beach park cannot handle any more impacts to it. We already have a hard time finding parking on the weekends or even during the week to just go exercise or walk our dogs or anything. And that’s like one of the few places on the West Side that residents can go to and really feel like they’re welcome,” she testified.

“You can see,” Nishiki explained, “how a development right there across the street from one of the most well-used beach parks in Lahaina would cause some concerns for residents.”

“You’ll have a huge outcry of Lahaina residents,” Nishiki warned.

The public is invited to submit comments as well. The deadline for submissions is on June 7 to the County of Maui, Maui Planning Commission at William.Spence@co.maui.hi.us or 2200 Main St., Suite 315, Wailuku, HI 96793.

Gwen Rivera at Munekiyo and Hiraga is also available to answer questions at 244-2015.