KAHULUI - State Land Use Commission members ran out of time and didn't hear closing arguments or vote Thursday in their reconsideration of the proposed 68-lot Kahoma affordable housing project.
The panel will reconvene March 21 on Maui. Commission Chairman Kyle Chock told the parties that the project's evidentiary hearing had been completed. No further motions or filings would be considered, he said
When the commission returns to Maui in two weeks, it will hearing final statements from attorneys and interveners, deliberate and vote, Chock said. The project is seeking a state land reclassification from agricultural to urban, which is needed for the housing development to proceed.
Ewa, Oahu, resident Michael Lee, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, listens to a question from West Maui Land Co. attorney James Geiger during a state Land Use Commission meeting Thursday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Michael Lee is sworn in before testifying during a state Land Use Commission meeting Thursday morning. The panel was hearing more testimony as it reconsiders a Dec. 5 vote that denied West Maui Land Co.’s request for a state land reclassification for the 68-lot Kahoma affordable housing project. Lee testified that development of the Lahaina property would harm his right to exercise his Native Hawaiian cultural practices.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
In December, the commission denied the project's land use change but last month agreed to reconsider its decision.
During much of Thursday's meeting at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, panel members heard more testimony - from members of the public, two Maui County department heads and Oahu resident Michael Lee, a recognized Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner who claims family ties to the 16.7-acre Kahoma property through his paternal grandfather.
Lee of Ewa told commission members that as recently as Wednesday he visited and exercised cultural practices on the project site, which is on former sugar cane land on the mauka side of Honoapiilani Highway and between the Kahoma Stream flood control channel and homes mauka of the former Pioneer Mill.
Under questioning from West Maui Land Co. attorney James Geiger, Lee testified that he has visited the project site nine times in recent years. He acknowledged that he doesn't collect limu at the site, where a diverted stream no longer flows, but he said his grandfather did gather limu at the property before Kahoma Stream was diverted.
Lee testified that a "libation stone" he identified as an archaeological feature on the property was on top of a "push pile" of other rocks.
Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux later asked if the libation stone's position atop the rocks meant that it had likely been moved there while the ground was altered as part of sugar cultivation. Lee agreed that it likely was moved, but he maintained that it would be culturally wrong to move it again.
Geiger confronted Lee with evidence that the State Historic Preservation Division had not found a heiau or iwi (ancient Hawaiian bones) on the property. Lee said that he believed the heiau was below the "push pile" of rocks, and he insisted that failure to find iwi was inconclusive because those investigating the area did not screen the soil with sieves to search for bone fragments.
Lee disagreed with the division's assessment that the site was "culturally sterile." He referred to a 1994 Department of Land and Natural Resources assessment that there were terraced archaeological features on either side of Kahoma Stream. He said there were loi, or taro patches, on the property into the 1850s, after which the land was cultivated in sugar cane.
Intervener Michele Lincoln, a Lahaina resident who lives near the project site, asked Lee about "spiritual evidence" from the project site, telling him she experienced "night marchers" in February 2012.
Lee responded that he had no doubt "night marchers," or "fire walkers," would be at the property.
"This is a sacred site," he said. "When they come the next time, people will be in danger . . . This is not a good place to put houses next to."
In other testimony, Lee acknowledged that the commission routinely sets conditions on developments to protect cultural sites and to monitor them during construction.
Earlier, during public testimony, commission members heard testimony in favor of the project's affordable housing.
Patricia Nishiyama, testifying on behalf of Na Kapuna O Maui, said that affordable housing is "very much needed" in West Maui. She said she appreciated West Maui Land Co. for trying to give residents an opportunity to get housing.
"We need it badly," she said.
Paia resident Bruce U'u agreed about the need for more housing, telling commissioners that he has two children, three grandchildren and two nephews all living in his house. He said that he appreciated the project's location in Lahaina.
"It's in a perfect place," he said, pointing out that it's walking distance from the shoreline, schools, shopping, drugstores and Lahaina town. "It's something we really need."
Department of Public Works Director David Goode testified that the project would comply with recent Maui County regulations covering storm water quality and runoff. Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza said that the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility has 9 million gallons per day of sewage treatment capacity, of which 4.1 million gallons is used daily on average. He said that the treatment plant has the capacity to add the Kahoma project's estimated average daily wastewater flow of 23,800 gallons.
Thursday's hearing came after the commission voted 6-0 on Feb. 22 to grant the developer's request to reconsider its Dec. 5 vote denying an application for a land use reclassification.
At the LUC's meeting in December, the Kahoma project received four votes from commissioners in favor of the land reclassification, two short of the six needed. The panel's vote came despite the project having the support of the county Department of Planning and the state Office of Planning.
Opposition came from interveners Lincoln and Routh Bolomet of Oahu. They maintain that the project site should remain an open area, available for agriculture.
In 2011, the Maui County Council approved the Kahoma development as a fast-track affordable housing project. Plans called for selling the homes to families with incomes of up to 160 percent of median income.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.
* Kahoma affordable housing project. Intervener Michele Lincoln, a Lahaina resident who lives near the Kahoma residential project site, did not ask Native Hawaiian practitioner Michael Lee for "spiritual evidence." And, Lincoln did not experience "night marchers" in February 2012. She was quoted incorrectly in the story.
The Maui News apologizes for the errors.