Billionaire landowner Larry Ellison's plan to build a third luxury hotel on the undeveloped windward side of Lanai has drawn great community concern but nevertheless made it into the island's draft plan finalized Sept 30.
The 100-plus-page document included plans for a 100-unit resort on 20 acres along the eastern Keomoku coast at the former Club Lanai site. The Kahalepalaoa Retreat Resort units would be "built in a Hawaiian village style with a low-impact, ecofriendly design," according to the plan.
The comprehensive plan included a new 524-acre university and research institute, film studio facility, tennis academy and gateway park. Lanai City would grow by 546 acres and an estimated 3,000 more people, doubling the island's current population.
"You have to take everything with a grain of salt . . . Even though it's in the draft plan right now, there are no timelines attached to it," Butch Gima, chairman of the Lanai Community Plan Advisory Committee, said last week. "The committee just approved in concept of those potential projects, but (many projects) are still in the feasibility stage."
Since January, the 13-member committee has held 23 meetings to work on the 12 different sections of the plan, which address issues ranging from environmental resources to economic development to infrastructure improvements. Representatives from Pulama Lanai, formerly known as Ellison's Lanai Resorts LLC, attended nearly all of the meetings to answer questions, committee members said.
"We have in our minds what we think the community wants, and then we heard what Pulama Lanai wanted, and tried to mesh the two the best we could," Lanai resident and committee member Deborah de la Cruz said. "Lanai is going to have to grow. It would be nice to remain at our present population and sustain the island, but I don't think that's realistic."
The need to balance the desires of the community with those of the landowner has been a learning process, de la Cruz said. Since Ellison bought 98 percent of the island last June, changes have already begun taking place, mostly for the better, residents said.
Ellison's company has since refurbished and reopened the community pool, built new basketball and volleyball courts, started plans to bring a hospice to the island and broke ground on a state-of-the-art desalinization plant that would, if successful, help solve the island's perennial water shortage issues - all the while creating much-needed jobs for residents.
So far, Ellison's management has been a welcome change from the contentious relationship the community had with previous island-owner David Murdock of Castle and Cooke Resorts, residents said.
"Unlike Murdock, he (Ellison) is not a micromanager. He's got deeper pockets. Unemployment is under 2 percent," Gima said. "At the same time, people will say this is how Murdock first started in the mid-1980s."
Gima, who put himself among the "cautiously optimistic" residents, said he knows there is a need to balance Lanai's unique lifestyle and economic diversity, and "it cannot just be one major landowner" who makes all the decisions.
"There has to be some checks and balances, and of all the projects and goals, that third resort is going to be the most contentious," Gima said. "Pulama Lanai has an excellent opportunity to make this a model sustainability community. It's quite a legacy to leave. At the same time, they have control over things that would change which are very near-and-dear to every Lanai resident. That's a tough one for people like my generation, who grew up with the plantation lifestyle and values which really set the stage for who we are as adults. There will have to be compromises and sacrifices made."
Developing a third resort on the east side, which many local families frequent for fishing, diving and camping, may polarize the community, one committee member said.
"Many residents would regret the loss of that area," said Alberta de Jetley, who was raised on the Pine Isle. "When Manele Bay became the public resort beach, more and more residents started going to the back side of the island along the east coast side; it's the main recreation area for the local residents of Lanai.
"I go there with my dogs, and they can play and swim. There's never anyone around. With more activity coming there, we won't be able to do that anymore," she said.
Despite the community's unrest, de Jetley is supportive of most of Pulama Lanai's plans, saying that the third resort would provide a lot of jobs, which are in high demand. Other developments, like the university, would bring educated professionals from all over the world to Lanai, which would be "a very good thing" for the island, she said.
"The last community plan didn't really go anywhere. This at least gives us some direction. We're moving forward," de Jetley said. "I may not even be alive to see if even half of it comes true, but I think it's an exciting time."
The community plan was last updated in 1998. The draft plan advances to the Lanai Planning Commission, which will have six months to review it. Afterwards, the plan will move on for approval by the Maui County Council, which will have 12 months to take action.
Attempts to reach Pulama Lanai representatives for comment by phone and email were unsuccessful.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.