WAILUKU - The Maui Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of land-use changes that would allow expansion and greater development flexibility for the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei.
The proposed change of zoning and a community plan amendment for the park's 406 acres advances to the Maui County Council.
As detailed in its environmental impact statement, the expansion project would be built-out in two 10-year phases. Plans call for adding a mixed-use village center, a mix of single-family and multifamily residences of as much as 1,250 units, a business hotel, an expansion of "knowledge-industry lots," and open space and park areas.
The project developer is Maui R&T Partners, a partnership of Pacific Rim Land and Woodridge Capital Partners.
Among those providing testimony in support of the land-use changes was Garrett Marrero, founder of Maui Brewing Co., who said the park's expansion was part of his decision to purchase property there to establish a production facility in South Maui, his third.
He told commissioners that he expects to double his business with his move to the Research & Technology Park. Maui Brewing has 65 employees.
Marrero said his company embraces alternative energy technology and plans to have electric vehicle charging stations at the brewery.
Gene Zarro, chief executive officer of the South Maui Learning Ohana and one of the founders of the Kihei Charter School, spoke in favor of the park's expansion.
The Kihei Charter School, which pays $50,000 a month to lease class space for its students, aims to relocate to the research and technology park, he said, and approval of the land-use changes would help the school plan its facilities.
Traffic and highway safety concerns were raised about the expansion plans.
"Lipoa Parkway is right now an accident waiting to happen," Kihei resident Jim Likes said.
The concept of the Maui Research & Technology Park began in the early 1980s with private and public sector leaders aiming to broaden the island's economy away from tourism, sugar and pineapple by encouraging the high-technology industry.
So far, only 40 acres of the park's 414 acres have been developed on land mauka of Piilani Highway and the Elleair Maui Golf Club. Expansion project coordinator Steve Perkins said the park has two dozen companies employing 400 people and generating $125 million per year. The park's five buildings have 180,000 square feet of lab, office and data center space.
Park tenants include Akimeka, Boeing, the Maui Economic Development Board, the Maui High Performance Computing Center and Pacific Defense Solutions.
In the future, the park is expected to include Maui Brewing, Kihei Charter School and a skilled nursing facility, he said.
As configured, however, the park has limitations, Perkins said. There's a minimum 2-acre lot size and 60-foot setbacks and a limitation of 35 percent lot coverage - all of which raise infrastructure and other costs for prospective tenants.
Planning consultant John Beutler, senior associate with Calthorpe Associates, told commission members that technology parks were originally designed with university campuses in mind, but large buildings distantly separated from each other don't nurture the environment needed to generate creative interaction among people.
"It isolates people," he said. "Instead, it's all about links and networks."
And, small startup companies targeted for the Maui park lack the financial resources for a vast campus, such as the one built by Google in Mountain View, Calif., he said.
"Those companies can't isolate themselves," he said. "They need to be in a place."
The project's master plan calls for building residential units for park employees, enabling them to walk or bike to work.
In December 2011, Maui County Council members supported the park's updated plans when they included them in the Kihei-Makena section of the Maui Island Plan. That included the addition of 1,250 residential units. The park's proposed mixed-use village center would be 58 acres with a mixing of housing, offices, civic facilities, live-work areas and parks.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.