Time is quickly ticking down on a long negotiated land deal where Maui County could acquire 186 acres in Launiupoko for $13 million to create much needed open space for Maui.
The original price of this land was $16 million and Mayor Alan Arakawa's administration negotiated it down to $13 million. At question now, as the County Council takes up the matter, is the valuation of the current appraisal. Unfortunately, this questioning comes at a time when decisions have to be made as the deal is set to expire Dec. 31, and the landowner has confirmed multiple times that no further time extension will be offered. That said, the council voted 7-1 (with Council Member Don Couch as the only dissenting vote and Council Member Mike Victorino excused) for a new, independent appraisal.
Council Member Mike White, the Budget and Finance Committee chair, feels the current appraisal is flawed, leading to an inflated price that is not based on fair market value, and wants a new appraisal. While we appreciate carefully looking at the value of the property and wanting to pay the least amount possible, particularly as the parcel will be purchased with taxpayer dollars, the seller (Makila Land Co.) has named its price, has repeatedly told council members that it is not negotiable, and that the Dec. 31 deadline is firm. If we had an owner willing to further negotiate or extend the timeframe, then a new appraisal would not be a concern. But in this case, it is.
This project has been a part of the county's long-range planning for many years. It contributes to our open space goal of preserving land along the shoreline to ensure it remains available for residents and visitors to enjoy, like Kihei and Kaanapali. It is desired, available now, and we could pay considerably more for it in the future if we miss the opportunity. Worse yet, it could be sold to another party who may elect to develop it and we could lose this amazing acreage altogether.
Real estate prices are on the rise and this is prime oceanfront property. The council recently approved a $20 million appropriation for the purchase of Lipoa Point, which comprises 277 acres. This equates to a cost of over $72,000 per acre. While this parcel is different from the Launiupoko acreage that would cost the county less than $70,000 an acre if purchased, it is an oceanfront parcel like Launiupoko and provides a valuation per acre that is higher than the Launiupoko offering.
It is important to take advantage of these opportunities when they come up. We have all seen what can happen when we miss them. Let us not forget how a previous County Council stopped the purchase of One Main Plaza during Arakawa's first term and how we are all paying more today as a result.
Our time for action is short and any new appraisal is needed immediately to be considered. Given the importance of this land to our county and community, one would hope the appraisal is a top priority and will be done in a matter of weeks. That said, a new appraisal appears to be a moot point as the landowner has already said the price is fixed.
This parcel is too valuable to gamble with and the merits and benefits to our community are already known. As a decision has been made to move forward with a new appraisal, we hope it will provide a level of comfort and aid in the decision-making process. However, if a new appraisal cannot be completed in time to meet the Dec. 31 deadline, then we hope the council will vote on the matter regardless.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.