Makena Resort to move forward

By CHRIS HAMILTON and CLAUDINE SAN NICHOLAS, Staff Writers

POSTED: November 21, 2008
WAILUKU – After two straight days of meetings filled with emotional testimony, the Maui County Council Land Use Committee voted 7-2 Thursday to give Makena Resort the agreements it needs for the controversial luxury development to move forward.

Committee members devoted Thursday to amending many of the 41 conditions that a prior committee had placed on the resort development, which includes a substantial affordable housing component. They were catching up from the last time the committee took up the project – four years ago.

Thursday’s committee approval moves the measure to the full council for first reading and consideration of the conditions, rezoning and

unilateral agreement with the development’s general partner Everett Dowling and his investment partners.

Council Member Michael Victorino called for the question after Land Use Com

mittee Chairman Mike Molina recommended approval. Also voting yes were Council Chairman Riki Hokama and Council Members Danny Mateo, Gladys Baisa, Bill Medeiros and Joe Pontanilla.

Council Members Jo Anne Johnson and Michelle Anderson, a vocal development critic, voted no.

“This project will be a defining moment” in Maui’s history, Victorino said, adding that it comes at a time when the nation’s and county’s economy is depressed with shortages in jobs and in affordable homes. “This is a chance for us to jump-start,”

“Now is the time to come together and not be divided,” Victorino said. He urged opponents of the project to meet with Dowling and work with him to address the concerns they have about impacts the project will have on land and water.

Anderson said her decision against the project was a difficult one, and she was glad that the developer for such a massive project would be Dowling.

“I think he’s a man of integrity,” she said.

Still, Anderson said her concerns about Makena Resort’s application boiled down to documents being incomplete and failing to answer questions about many issues including water supply, drainage surveys and an evacuation plan for a resort set in a tsunami zone.

“It’s clear to me we’re overdeveloping this area . . . This is not the way to preserve what the past has given us.”

Dowling appeared relieved after the vote, shaking hands with council members and embracing both Anderson and Johnson before leaving the Council Chambers.

“It is a big responsibility,” he said about his project. “It’s an enormous responsibility. A lot of jobs are at stake and there’s an environment we need to protect. It’s figuring out how to balance the two.”

Victorino said when the county grants final approval he was told by Dowling that construction could begin within months. When the committee report and required documents will be forwarded to the full council was not known as of Thursday night. Victorino said that the overarching zoning change and unilateral agreement was really needed to make all the land uses concurrent so it will be easier for Dowling to get reasonable financing.

The committee had before it bills that would change the zoning for 603.3 acres. Nine years ago, council committee members granted initial approval of the revisions to the resort master plan when they adopted changes to the overall Kihei-Makena Community Plan.

The Land Use Committee had been waiting for action on the unilateral agreement by the previous owner, the Seibu Group of Japan. Dowling and his partners purchased the land, plans and Maui Prince Hotel from Seibu 16 months ago.

For Thursday’s continuation of the committee meeting, the Council Chambers were much quieter when compared to Wednesday’s opening when an overflow crowd of more than 400 people both for and against the project showed up.

Dowling and his supporters had argued that Makena Resort will create much-needed construction jobs for the next 15 years; utilize green building techniques; save Maui Prince Hotel’s 400 jobs; and increase the staff by 20 percent.

Project opponents said it will encroach on hundreds of acres of pristine natural environment, destroy cultural sites, damage reefs, displace native animals and plants, and create more urban sprawl.

Anderson, who holds the South Maui residency seat, spent much of the day ratifying many of the original conditions, sometimes line by line. She expressed disbelief that she had just one day to update an agreement written four years ago.

Her laundry list included assurances for long-term water sources, affordable housing, regular near-shore water quality testing and archeological site preservation. Anderson said she also will later ask that the expense of expanding Piilani Highway to the area be spread among the property owners.

“This is prohibitively expensive from my standpoint,” Dowling said if his project alone would be required to pay an estimated $20 million for the highway extension.

Dowling was frequently at the podium Thursday, explaining how he planned to meet Anderson’s many requests. He answered nearly all of them with a yes, sometimes first consulting with Anderson one on one.

Committee members voted to impose the current work force housing ordinance, which requires new projects to provide 40 to 50 percent of the units as affordable housing. Dowling plans to build 1,000 units within the resort at market rates worth more than $600,000 each.

He said he does not plan to construct any affordable housing within the Makena Resort. Instead, he said he will build 500 affordable units in the Kihei-Makena Community Plan district, which stretches from Maalaea through Kihei and Wailea to Makena.

Dowling said he has already signed contracts with a local nonprofit to build 51 affordable homes with $5.8 million from his foundation.

“If he’s offering us 500 affordable units, let’s grab it and put it in as an amendment,” Anderson said.

There was confusion for part of the morning about how the county’s new work force housing policy should be implemented on such a large scale.

Hokama said that should not be the case any longer. Mayor Charmaine Tavares’ administration should have put in place by now administrative rules for implementing the ordinance, he said. Hokama further wondered aloud, in frustration, if that would ever occur.

Water – once again – was a major topic of discussion for the development Thursday.

There are 12 wells on the property, some of which are brackish, and Dowling previously said he could install a desalination plant if needed. But Dowling also asked for, and received from the committee, the freedom to seek other water sources.

The resort already has a wastewater treatment plant on site with the ability to treat the wastewater for use on landscaping.

“I understand loud and clear that the county does not have water,” Dowling said. “And I understand that we have a responsibility to provide the water.”

Council Member Mateo called it a good day when they are putting to use both the show me the water and work force housing ordinances.

This will give future applicants some guidelines to follow, Molina said.

As revised, the Makena Resort master plan reduces the number of housing units from 1,600 to 1,000. Half would be multi-family units and the other half would be single-family homes. The project is expected to take 15 years to complete.

No new hotel would be built, which was added as a specific condition Thursday. However, Dowling has said he will rebuild the Maui Prince Hotel in several years and will have about 70 condos to be used as transient vacation rentals near the existing hotel.

The committee also accepted an additional condition that will prohibit time shares within Makena Resort or vacation rentals that are not operated by the Maui Prince hotel management.

Dowling said they have surveyed all 25 parcels within the resort lands for archaeological finds. At Anderson’s request, he agreed to get State Historic Preservation Division and Office of Hawaiian Affairs approvals on each special management area permit for projects within the resort.

Anderson also asked for and received assurance from the developer of up to $1 million for the construction of a new South Maui police station.

Anderson also tagged on an amendment that required shielded outdoor lamps to prevent light pollution and disturb endangered species.

“It’s a good condition; and you’ll be happy to know that we are eliminating every other street light on Makena Alanui (Road),” Dowling said.

Anderson responded, “Cool.”

* Chris Hamilton can be reached at chamilton@mauinews.com

* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at claudine@maunews.com