MAKENA – The state Land Use Commission began this week what promises to be a long series of proceedings on Alexander & Baldwin Properties’ proposed 545-acre, 2,550-unit Wai’ale subdivision in Central Maui.
The commission listened to about two dozen residents testify for and against the proposal Thursday and Friday at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.
“This is very preliminary,” said A&B Properties Vice President Grant Chun. “We are still in the conceptual phase. A lot of the questions asked today are to be answered on the county level.”
Commission members said that they intend to return for more testimony from state and county officials in April, Chun said Friday.
The Wai’ale project is seeking a state land-use district boundary change from agriculture to urban. And, the Maui County Council will take up proposed changes of zoning for the property as well as amendments to the county general and community plans, said county Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Hopper.
The governor’s Office of Planning and Mayor Alan Arakawa’s Department of Planning support the project. Proponents of the development maintain it will bring jobs, tax revenue and affordable and market-priced homes as Maui’s population continues to grow.
Members of the Waikapu Community Association, conservationists and Native Hawaiian groups oppose the project. Those speaking in favor of it included nonprofit, construction and business leaders and some residents.
“This will probably entice a lot of people who went away to college to come home,” said golf coach Eric Miyajima.
Laksmi Abraham, head of the Maui United Way, said: “This is exactly the kind of housing we need.”
A&B and the county plan to provide 863 affordably priced single-family and multifamily homes, according to an environmental impact statement on the project. That document can be found online at luc.state.hi.us/dockets/a10789aandb/a10789feisvol1_10072011.pdf.
The project also promises 230,000 square feet of commercial space such as shops and restaurants and 175,000 square feet for light industry.
The environmental review estimated the project’s cost at roughly $732 million, and Chun said that construction of Wai’ale will take years to complete in phases. The price tag could increase dramatically if the county decides A&B must build its own wastewater and water treatment plants.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club maintained that the project’s environmental review was insufficient. The land’s distinct burial mounds and sand dunes have already been damaged and could suffer more, they said.
Retired Maui Community College economics professor Dick Mayer said A&B has a track record of getting land-use changes for development projects and then failing to follow through with construction. He accused the company of collecting entitlements, which can be sold off later for a profit to other developers.
A&B officials countered that the economy’s sharp decline deeply impacted the company’s development plans until only recently.
Environmentalist Lucienne de Naie said that the middle school is too close to Wai’ale’s abandoned landfill. There still isn’t enough affordable housing, she said, and the development plan has not been updated since its last public review.
A&B project planner Thomas Witten of PBR Hawaii said that project planners have been working alongside the community since 2005, calling the Wai’ale development an “extension of Wailuku.”
But Waikapu Community Association President Jacob Verkerke said that the project jeopardizes his small, Central Maui community.
“The most central issue of concern for the Waikapu Community Association is the threat this project represents to our community’s continued separate identity as the last remaining traditional country town in Maui’s Central Valley,” he said.
Native Hawaiian advocate Claire Apana said that she and others believe Wai’ale’s dunes are the site of the last great hand-to-hand fight in ancient Hawaii, the Battle of Kakanilua in 1776.
It was a crushing defeat of Big Island alii and warriors who kept invading Maui, she said. It ended with an overwhelming army ambush of about 800 fighters trapped in the dunes.
Lisa Rotunno-Hazuka of Archaeological Services of Hawaii worked closely with state preservationists and island burial councils. Her team combed the region. The archaeologists found burials and expect to uncover more. But there’s no evidence up to 800 fighters will be found, she said.
“If we thought these burials were there, we would say that,” Rotunno-Hazuka said. “There would be no reason to cover it up. It would be wonderful.”
Rotunno-Hazuka said historic records show the battle probably took place somewhere else. Human remains found so far include women and children with no signs of battle injuries, she said.
University of Hawaii Maui College archaeology professor Janet Six said a full “cultural research study must be done.”