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Why are walls going down in Launiupoko?

By Staff | Dec 3, 2009

The county is requiring homeowners to take rock walls down to four feet high in agriculture-zoned districts.

LAHAINA — Why is a neighbor knocking down her wall. Has she gone mad? What could have possessed a homeowner to do this to their own property?

Why did a beautiful wall like this end up being knocked down?

Serious questions in this economy, when so much around the world is going on — financial doom and gloom, the economy in the toilet, and locally, the trickle down effect of the lack of tourists visiting our islands.

That must be it! This homeowner finally couldn’t take one more minute of it and decided, in an act of insanity, to knock down her own wall?

No, that’s not it. Then what can it be?

We don’t have to look for a global answer. Just go to the local county Planning Department and the Mayor’s Office.

This homeowner has received not one, but two threatening letters from the county citing civil and criminal enforcement actions if her wall does not immediately comply to the four-foot maximum allowable in agriculture-zoned districts.

WOW! How’s that for a threat? Civil and criminal enforcement action — that’s one for the judge.

“Well, your honor, it was like this. My wall, you see, it’s been there for ten years. And, no, I didn’t build it — it came with the house. And the county decided that it was time it came down to four feet. It’s such a beautiful wall, I just couldn’t bring myself to…” Give me a break!

The county, in its wisdom, notably the Zoning Division (who police the RFS/“request for service” hotline to respond to complaints about roosters, trash pickup or neighbors putting rentals on their houses without building permits) has been out in force taking pictures of anything solid, made of rock, that’s higher than four feet in the area within the setback. Your wall can be higher if it’s outside of the agricultural setback areas of 25 feet in front and back of the lot and 15 feet on the side. By the way, if it’s in a residential- or rural-zoned area, it can be six feet. Go figure.

Also confusing are the electrical pedestals. Drive around the area and you see these uniform pedestals, rock clad and just off the roadway. They look great, and they serve a purpose — attached to the back are electrical meters for the houses. What’s wrong with that?

No, the county wants them to be brought down to four feet, too. Why? Not civil and criminal enforcement action again?

“Well, judge, my electrical meter? You see, it was over four feet. Yes, I know I had specific instructions from MECO. They wanted them so high, so the meters could be at eye level.”

“I agree. It makes sense, judge. Why have all their employees with chronic back problems crouching down to read the meters? And they wanted them to be this wide, so they could fit several meters on one pedestal. Yes, I know it makes sense.”

“Your honor, at the time, there were a lot of dirt driveways and one lot stacked behind the other, so MECO decided that a pedestal at the roadway would be required to provide electrical service to the dwellings that were to be built. I know it does make sense.”

But instead of looking into all of this, and actually doing some research on why all the pedestals were built in the location they are, why they are the same height and width, and why they were clad in rock, the county chose enforcement.

By the way, the developers thought it would be more pleasing to the eye when driving around the neighborhood. Instead of looking at ugly CMU concrete, the pedestals could be clad in rocks. And why not? There’s no shortage of rocks in Launiupoko!

So the owners, at their expense, had the pedestals built this way… and then some ten years later, the current powers-that-be decided that now is a really great time to notify by certified mail approximately 82 homeowners that they were not in compliance and need to knock down pedestals, walls, columns holding up gates… like I said, anything over four feet made of rock within the setback.

The really stupid thing is they told one guy he has to knock down his wall from 6 to 4 feet, but he can put a fence on top of it as high as he likes!?

Why? You really have to ask yourself. Here’s an enlightened response from a county zoning inspector working in the area: “Cos dems da rules.” Oh, the sheer joy of dealing with Maui County.

So, what’s to happen to these “walls?” Some owners have been told if they are not willing to knock them down, they must apply for a variance as the only means of relief from these threats.

It’s a cost of $550 per owner and numerous copies of paperwork — 26 copies of this, and 26 copies of that. So that’s what they are doing. Others just couldn’t take it anymore.  

We will keep you posted as more homeowners are notified. The Zoning Department could not identify one legitimate complaint about these “walls,” but instead decided to take it upon themselves to drive the neighborhood and look for walls. It’s sporadic, but we have heard of one employee who has been assigned to “wall duty” putting in 30 hours a week. How’s that for job assurance.  

What about the mayor, you ask? Surely she has some input as to the sheer idiocy of this! She has been consulted and is well aware. A widely circulated e-mail is quite the hot topic in Wailuku — the buzz about the walls coming down, and chalk one up for the county making “those people” in “that area” comply.

Personally, it makes me sick. I can vouch for the guy who has already taken his wall down. He is sick to his stomach — not just at the expense, but at the sheer stupidity of it all. The wall has been there for ten years, looks great, is not blocking anyone’s view, provides safety and privacy and is on his personal property and adds value.

To be threatened with civil and criminal actions by not taking it down two feet is a crime in itself. This is ongoing… we will keep you posted. (This commentary was submitted by a local resident.)