The master-planned Olowalu Town project gained key support from a Maui County Council committee Thursday that will allow the 600-acre development to move forward.
The council's nine-member General Plan Committee voted 7-1 in favor of including the project within the island's urban and rural growth boundaries for West Maui. Council Member Elle Cochran, who holds the West Maui residency seat, voted against it, and Riki Hokama was excused.
"I'm extremely grateful. . . . This takes us one step closer to building the vision of a small town for Maui's families," developer Bill Frampton of Wailuku-based Frampton & Ward said after the vote. "This certainly is a very important step in the process. We're excited to be able to bring some life back to Olowalu."
Olowalu General Store cook Ulysses Pacil cuts Maui Gold pineapple for a fruit salad Thursday. The Fujii family that owns the iconic Olowalu General Store was concerned about a developer’s plans to shift Honoapiilani Highway mauka and away from the shoreline. The store owners think their business could be displaced with the highway shift. The developer said plans have been revised to relocate the proposed town center and commercial area closer to Olowalu General Store “to make them a part of our community.”
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Plans for Olowalu Town call for 1,500 units - 750 units would be set aside for affordable housing - a town center, parks and areas for public facilities such as a school, a post office and emergency services. A quarter of the project would be reserved for agricultural use or open space.
At build-out, the $466 million project would be home to about 4,000 residents.
Earlier versions of the project had been supported by the General Plan Advisory Committee and the Maui Planning Commission, but the Department of Planning had not included it in its recommendations to the council's General Plan Committee.
Council Member Don Couch referred to the project as "the big elephant in the room" before making a motion to add Olowalu Town into the plan.
"We as a county, we've been asking for this type of planning for years, and, finally, some people have done it, and I think it needs to be considered," Couch said. "They've done an exemplary job of getting people involved," he said, referencing community-based charrettes that started in 2005.
During discussions, Planning Department Director Will Spence said he could support having Olowalu Town in the Maui Island Plan.
Cochran criticized Spence for "reneging" on the department's original position.
"I've seen enough progress in this and, just to be honest, I'm pretty convinced the developers are serious about working with the community in resolving the issues," Spence said. "This is just the start of a long process."
Council members previously heard two full days of public testimony on the West Maui plans, most of which focused on Olowalu,
The project had come under criticism from environmental groups and marine experts who cautioned that development in the area could cause major damage to Olowalu's reefs. Others who oppose the project cited concerns about traffic impacts along Honoapiilani Highway and diminishing the rural character of the area.
Frampton says the project's draft environmental impact statement helps address those concerns, and a final EIS is being prepared to further improve the project.
Spence noted that the developer's plans for handling storm runoff go "above and beyond" current requirements and called some of the proposed traffic mitigations innovative.
Longtime Olowalu residents came out in support of the project, arguing that their former plantation village sorely needs the infrastructure and amenities being proposed for the project. They also see the project as a way for their families and future generations to stay connected to Olowalu.
"It will bring improvements to us that we have not had before," Olowalu resident Adeline Kaahui Rodrigues testified last week. "I want the town now, and not 20 years from now."
Frampton said the project's final EIS will need to go before the state Land Use Commission next. If approved, the project will then need to go back to the County Council for zoning and community plan amendments before heading to the Maui Planning Commission.
In other action Thursday, the General Plan Committee approved including Kaanapali Land Management Corp.'s long-planned Kaanapali 2020 project, which includes the Wainee Village mixed-use project near the Lahaina Aquatic Center. The entire project includes 1,800 homes.
The committee also included the state's controversial Villages of Leiali'i project near the Lahaina Civic Center.
The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., the state agency charged with overseeing affordable housing development, said the state had spent $29 million on infrastructure for the project to date.
Leiali'i dates back to 1990, when it was proposed as a 4,800-unit development - half of which would be affordable housing.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has since bought a portion of the project and has built 116 homes.
Plans for Leiali'i were halted in 1993, when the Office of Hawaiian Affairs sued because the project is sited on ceded lands. State officials testified that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the state has the vested title on the lands.
But the state Legislature has since passed legislation that requires a supermajority in order for the state to sell ceded lands.
That means homes built on the site would be sold as leasehold.
Council Member Couch said that he was disappointed that the Leiali'i project had not involved the community, in contrast to the Kaanapali 2020 and Olowalu Town projects.
He made a motion to not include Leiali'i's project area within the growth boundaries, but that attempt did not get enough votes.
Council Member Joe Pontanilla made the motion to include the Leiali'i project. Couch, Cochran and Hokama voted against the motion; Danny Mateo was excused.
The portion of land included in the West Maui growth boundaries would allow for about 2,000 units.
In all, the planned housing projects - some of which are already entitled - would designate more than 6,500 housing units for West Maui over the next two or three decades. If all the projects are completed, the region would have an oversupply of about 227 percent of demand, according to the Planning Department.
"We may never see any of these built . . . certainly not in my lifetime," General Plan Committee Chairwoman Gladys Baisa said. "Entitlements are just that."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.