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Council working against the clock to review two Launiupoko affordable housing projects

By Staff | Jun 27, 2019

LAHAINA – The clock is ticking on the eighth floor of the County Building in Wailuku.

County Councilwoman Tasha Kama, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, was given 45 days from June 12 for her seven-member voting panel to either 1) approve, 2) approve with modifications or 3) disapprove the applications for two independent affordable work force housing projects in Launiupoko.

Kipa Centennial, a Colorado Limited Liability Company, is proposing the development of a 48.8-acre “agrihood,” the Polanui Gardens Work Force Housing Project. The community would consist of 50 single-family residential workforce housing units; 16 fair market value agricultural lots; a 4.5-acre neighborhood park with parking; and a one-acre community food park, offering edible landscaping and community garden plots.

The Hope Builders LLC drawing board plans detail the development of a workforce housing community, The Makila Rural-East Workforce Housing Project, on 97.5 acres of land, composed of 46 affordable single-family residential units, four live/work units, a neighborhood country store and 45 market-priced agricultural lots.

Approval of a bill for an ordinance to amend the state land use district classification from Agricultural to Urban is required of both developments.

A committee meeting was held June 19, and over 50 testified on these agenda items. A decision at the end of the day was not made, and the meeting recessed to June 25 at 9 a.m.

With the developers in the fast-track lane, via H201, asking for a pass to avoid in-depth review, the council must respond by July 15.

There were a number of opinions voiced and questions during the five-plus-hour, intense proceedings in the Council Chambers.

Affordable housing is a hot button topic for our depleted West Maui. Testimony was heated, both for and against the propositions on the table. Voices, in some cases, were pitched higher than normal.

Written testimony was received from a number of residents.

Shauna Buckner testified, “This is really about land use planning, not affordable housing, so it shouldn’t be fast-tracked as such. We need smart and meaningful development that goes through the proper channels. No shortcuts.”

Maria Linz noted: “While our community is in desperate need of affordable housing, it has to be done right and in the right areas. This proposed area is zoned agricultural and does not have the infrastructure or resources to support 200-plus new homes that these new developments would add.

“This area,” Linz observed, “is not and cannot be connected to county sewer or water. The water here comes from Kaua’ula Stream, and the current residents of Launiupoko are often already under water restrictions, because there isn’t enough water available to support the homes that already exist.”

The State Land Use Commission chimed in with this powerful statement about Makila Rural-East in a letter dated June 13 to the developer’s consultant, Vincent Bagoyo: “Based on our review of the project description, we believe that the applicant is deliberately engaging in parcelization, so as to circumvent the comprehensive review of the Land Use Commission.”

Others speaking against the workforce housing projects had generally the same concerns, including lack of water, fire protection, proximity to schools, traffic congestion, access to bus service, overloaded infrastructure and sewage disposal.

P. Denise La Costa is the West Side representative serving on the Maui Planning Commission. She spoke on her own behalf as a resident of Launiupoko.

“We all agree we need affordable rentals and affordable housing desperately, but it needs to be located where there are already sewer and water laterals. It needs to be located where people can walk to school, to church, to their jobs.

“There is a lot of property on the West Maui side,” the Lahaina real estate agent advised. “If the developers are being altruistic to build affordable housing, look twice at why they want to build here. It has nothing to do with housing; it has to do with money in their pocket.”

Napili scientist Mark Deakos was frustrated and worried about the state of the environment if the project is approved. It will continue, he observed, “to overdraw an already stressed aquifer; further contaminate groundwater and coastal waters with septic/ATU systems; increase traffic; lose agriculture land; create urban sprawl; (and) contribute more to the stormwater runoff that is destroying our reefs.”

Ke’eaumoku Kapu reminded the council that the 45-day clock has started: “The state planning is forcing you guys to make one decision; and, if you don’t within 45 days, it automatically passes.”

On the other side of the aisle are those residents equally passionate about the benefits of the construction of affordable neighborhoods.

Jeri Dean was recently appointed to serve on the West Maui Community Plan Advisory Committee. The 50-year-old was born and raised in Lahaina.

“As an employee of the Department of Education for the past 26 years, I have seen first-hand the detrimental impact lack of affordable housing has had in our educational system, our families and above all, our keiki.

“Due to the impossible situation of affording a place to live on a teacher’s salary here in Lahaina,” Dean advised, “we are designated as a ‘hard to hire and retain’ area. As a result, Lahaina has extremely high turnover rates, short-term teachers who leave after a year or two, or simply no teachers at all.”

“We are in a crisis situation that goes beyond desperation,” Dean added. “It is time for our public representatives to make the locals a priority above the tourists. It is a shame that we are required to continually fight for and justify the need for housing for our people. We need an advocate – we need to be heard. If not for us, then for our future,” Dean pleaded.

Myrna Ah Hee supports the affordable workforce housing proposed. Born and raised in Lahaina, she comes from a large ‘ohana. “My mom guys, we have over 50-something cousins not all of them can afford to live here, and I would love for them to live here.

“My concern,” Ah Hee qualified, “is my grandkids, my nieces, my nephews, my grandnieces, my grandnephews. We’re all here. Multi-generational families. People, come on – let’s work together; let’s work with the developers. Don’t fight everything; put some life back into that land. Put people back on that land.”

There were many logical reasons to vote against and vote in favor of Polanui Gardens and Makila Rural-East expressed.

The Affordable House Committee has almost an impossibly challenging task.

One testifier said, “Once urban is approved, you can’t go back.”

The 45-day fast track planning process might be the downfall of smart planning in this instance.

It’s a close call.