WAILUKU - The Maui County Council on Monday advanced the Maui Island Plan on first reading by a 7-2 vote, but not before making amendments to add in and to remove certain lands from the plan's directed growth boundaries.
The challenge of getting any changes through was heightened by the fact that three council members announced that they would not be proposing or voting for any changes, saying the plan had been tweaked enough as is.
"We have altered, changed, added and deleted. I think enough is enough," said Council Member Bob Carroll, who along with Council Members Gladys Baisa and Mike White voted against all amendments proposed Monday. "This plan needs to be OK'd, and it needs to go back to the communities."
With public testimony closed at Monday’s resumed County Council meeting on the Maui Island Plan, some gave “silent testimony” with homemade signs in opposition to proposed developments in Olowalu and Makena. Others, like Maui Tomorrow Foundation Executive Director Irene Bowie (left), encouraged the council to balance urban growth designations with greenways and protected open space in the Maui Island Plan.
The Maui News / NANEA KALANI photo
Baisa, who chaired the General Plan Committee, added: "We all came to agreement in order to present what is before us. Therefore, I am satisfied. If changes are made at the community plan level, then so be it, because we have said that we will support that."
Still, some council members were successful in getting a few significant changes through before the bill was passed.
That included a motion by Council Member Elle Cochran to adjust the growth boundaries in Olowalu to prevent any development makai of Honoapiilani Highway.
Wailuku development firm Frampton & Ward had proposed building Olowalu Town as a 1,500-unit development on 600 acres both mauka and makai of the highway.
Throughout the General Plan process, dozens of testifiers urged the council to reverse its decision to protect the reef and coastline along Olowalu as well as to prevent negative traffic impacts along the highway.
Marine biologists, ocean researchers, snorkel tour operators and boat captains have argued that the development will cause detrimental harm to the reef, while at least one family from the area has championed the project as a means to bring much-needed infrastructure to Olowalu.
The council's 5-4 vote to delete the makai lands was met with cheers and sighs of relief from some in the council gallery, many holding handmade signs that read "Protect Olowalu Reef," "Save Olowalu" and "No Olowalu."
Voting in favor were Cochran, Riki Hokama, Council Chairman Danny Mateo, Vice Chairman Joe Pontanilla and Mike Victorino.
Mark Deakos, executive director and chief scientist with the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, has repeatedly testified against any development in Olowalu. Deakos, who has said the Olowalu reef is the largest and healthiest coral reef system remaining in Maui waters, called Monday's vote "bittersweet."
"I definitely don't agree with Olowalu being urbanized," he said after the meeting. "There's still the potential of 4,000 people living uphill from the reef. But, we potentially have a small buffer of land to protect that precious reef as well as help preserve the plans for the Pali to Puamana Parkway. It's a small victory."
Deakos said he's been working with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to try to create a marine-protected area in Olowalu.
Developer Bill Frampton said after the meeting that the decision was still a "step in a positive direction for Olowalu Town."
"The vision for Olowalu is based upon our commitment to build a small town community where Maui's residents can afford to live and raise families, a community that opposes the idea of injection wells and makes protection of our reefs a priority, a community that reflects Maui's values," he said.
An earlier motion by Cochran to remove all development boundaries in Olowalu failed.
In urging support from her colleagues, Cochran referred to urbanizing the area as a massacre, citing Native Hawaiian cultural sites, heiau and burials.
"It's just a huge, huge decision on our behalf to urbanize an entire ahupuaa at Olowalu based on one specific project and one particular developer," she said. "Who's to say once this gets converted - this ag into urban - another proposal that's more enticing for the landowner isn't going to be taking over? . . . I am not going to be a part of some kind of desecration and massacre of this area."
That motion failed 6-3, with Cochran, Hokama and Pontanilla in support.
In Central Maui, the council supported a motion by Pontanilla to include within the growth boundaries approximately 285 acres of land in Pulehunui owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
State officials have proposed developing the land off of Mokulele Highway near the old Puunene airport and National Guard Armory for light industrial, business and commercial activities as well as a new jail.
"An urban designation for this land will enable the state to generate revenues to fund important state programs including forest fire prevention and endangered species recovery programs," Pontanilla said in making the motion.
The motion passed 5-4, with Pontanilla, Cochran, Hokama, Mateo and Victorino in support.
Nearby, the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands had proposed similar commercial and industrial developments on a 185-acre parcel to help generate revenue for its beneficiaries. But the council voted against a motion by Pontanilla to include those lands on the regulatory maps.
Some council members had previously expressed opposition to working with DHHL because of back taxes owed to the county for years of unpaid property taxes assessed on Hawaiian Home Lands homesteads.
After the motion failed, Pontanilla noted that the federal Hawaiian Homes Commission Act authorizes the state Hawaiian Homes Commission to determine how its lands are to be used.
"Although it didn't pass at this level, it doesn't mean that Hawaiian Home Lands just goes away," he said.
A DHHL official said after the meeting that the department is still hopeful that it can work with the county as it moves forward with the project.
"The department has to use its resources to benefit its beneficiaries. We have to move forward," said Norman Sakamoto, land development special assistant for DHHL. "It would have made it easier to have the land be included in a more formal way with the Maui Island Plan. We remain optimistic that our commission can work with Maui County, the administration and the council."
In South Maui, an attempt by Council Member Don Couch to remove 390 acres surrounding Makena Resort's golf course failed by a 6-3 vote, with Couch, Cochran and Hokama voting for the amendment.
Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said the Makena decision was disappointing.
"The South Maui community clearly did not want that," Bowie said. "Certainly, the owners have enough to build and prove themselves over the next 20 years with the acres they already have. They have yet to prove if they'll be a good neighbor," she said, noting that the property already holds development entitlements for about 1,000 acres and 2,000 housing units.
She said she also was disappointed that no amendments were made to restore greenways and scenic corridors in the plan.
The second and final vote on the Maui Island Plan is set for Dec. 21.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.