Conflict crops up over rural district boundaries

WAILUKU – More than a handful of residents and property owners of Anuhea Place near the Kulamalu Town Center in Pukalani asked County Council committee members Monday to place their land in a rural growth boundary so that they could freely put up homes for themselves and their children.

But representatives of both the Makawao and Kula community associations as well as other Upcountry residents were concerned about changing any existing Upcountry agricultural subdivisions to the higher-density rural designation. They were concerned that the lots could possibly be subdivided into smaller lots that would result in more homes, significant infrastructure impacts and additional costs to taxpayers.

Changing the designation of agricultural subdivisions to rural could “establish a precedent” that could be a “detriment to the county,” said Mike Foley, vice president of the Makawao Community Association and a former Maui County planning director.

But Tom Foster, a resident of Anuhea Place who also has a landscaping business on his property, said it makes sense to put Anuhea Place into a rural growth boundary because the area is adjacent to the town center and Kamehameha Schools Maui.

One of 10 people testifying in favor the change, Foster added that there is a gulch on both sides of the subdivision, so growth will not impact surrounding areas.

The Hale O Kaula Church also is in the subdivision and many members of the church testified Monday that the rural designation would make it easier to expand the church if needed. The church has faced numerous governmental hurdles because of its land designation and has even engaged in legal action.

Nearly 50 people testified before the Maui County Council’s General Plan Committee

Farmers say tax changes pose threat

MAKAWAO – Upcountry farmers said this week that they have concerns about proposals to change the way agricultural lands are taxed.

A number of landowners said any changes that increased what they pay in property taxes could put small farmers and ranchers out of business. Others questioned how the proposal would affect people who stop farming because of old age.

“I’m retired, and I’m worried about how we’re going to afford this,” said former persimmon farmer Blanche Ito. “All of a sudden, we’re faced with this new bill that might increase my taxes, and that concerns me.”

Ito was among around 40 residents who attended a special meeting of the Maui County Council Budget and Finance Committee on Monday night at Kalama Intermediate School in Makawao.

The committee is considering legislation that would tax the land under a home on an agricultural lot in the same way as a regular residential property.

Currently, an agricultural house lot is taxed as a percentage of the larger parcel’s total value, often resulting in a significantly lower amount than what a similar lot in a residential neighborhood would be worth. Council members have said the measure would be a first step in bringing more equity to the property tax system.

But several testifiers questioned that idea.

Geothermal company eyeing Ulupalakua

KULA – The company that has delivered geothermal power to the Big Island for nearly the past 20 years is going to look for a place to create a similar plant on Ulupalakua Ranch land.

Christopher Heaps, a representative of Ormat of Reno, Nev., told Kula residents for the first time publicly that his company would be searching about 8,000 acres of leased ranch land for suitable sites to dig wells that could produce at least two-dozen megawatts a day of energy for the Valley Isle.

If it is able to find a viable drill site and get all the proper government permits, Ormat could break ground on the project as soon as next year, Heaps said. It would provide about 150 construction jobs and another roughly 30 full-time positions.

And, Ormat would pay millions in taxes and mineral rights royalties, one-third of which would go to the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, another third to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the final third to Maui County, Heaps said. In addition, the company would assist community needs, such as pay for more security officers in public parks or create a scholarship program, he said.

About 100 Kula residents attended the special meeting hosted Wednesday night by the Kula Community Association.

A few Kula residents, such as Hula Lindsey, said they were skeptical about the project because Heaps said it probably would not reduce their electricity rates even though it is in their backyard.