Kula Ridge project resolution approved in 6 to 2 vote

October 19, 2010, 11:07 PM HST · Updated October 21, 10:00 AM
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By Wendy Osher

After more than 14 hours, members of the Maui County Council voted 6-2 in favor of a resolution to approve the Kula Ridge project in Upcountry Maui.  Shortly after 11 o’clock Tuesday night, members agreed to the resolution that included some 17 conditions or modifications.  Those voting in support included members Joe Pontanilla, Mike Molina, Gladys Baisa, JoAnne Johnson and Danny Mateo.  Those voting against the project’s 45-day fast-track approval were members Wayne Nishiki and Sol Kahoohalahala.  One member, Michael Victorino was excused.  Although the resolution passed, the project still needs subdivision approval at which time, developers will need to meet the County’s Show Me The Water bill.

The Kula Ridge project calls for the construction of 116 lots on land above the Holy Ghost Church in Kula.

Image courtesy Kula Ridge LLC.

The meeting came with some heated quips between Developer Clayton Nishikawa and Council Member Wayne Nishiki.  Prior to ending the meeting, Council members took turns explaining their reasoning to either support or oppose the project.

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Danny Mateo: (Aye)  “I think we’ve learned a lot from this process.  What we come away with other than mixed feelings at this point, we come with a feeling that the system is broken and we need to work hard to repair and to fix, and to mend.  When our policies–and I encourage developers to help build affordable housing–and then we stand in their way.  We need to take a look at the process.  It’s not only for this particular project, Kula Ridge.  An approval, should an approval be given this evening does not end anything.  The journey for this developer will just begin.  You will still need to contend with the numerous permitting processes, codes and compliance requirements included.  This 45-day process for the 201H has been for us, especially on Maui (County), a very difficult process because 45 days is just not long enough for us to fully address the total complexities of housing projects.  The difficulty in having projects built–affordable housing projects–it’s a challenge to everyone.  This body is very aware of a non-profit organization who could not fulfill their plans to build affordable housing–and we helped finance that project… We’ve had the opportunity of listening to many residents. As far as my own scale/gauge, it was really encouraging for me to see a lot of our young people come out–young people who come with a commitment to want to live on Maui, to want to live in Upcountry, Maui, and they want projects to occur.  So for us, our charge, we need to take a look at the bureaucratic red tape; we need to take a look at the governmental processes because we’ve got to make things happen, and make them right for Maui County.  ”

Wayne Nishiki: (No) “What is the purpose and intent of the 201H process?  Hawaii Revised Statutes Affordable Housing process is intended to provide affordable housing immediately.  It’s a special process intended for projects and exempts projects from important regulations and standards that are intended to assure residents’ health, safety, and welfare.  And I’m sure that all of the developers are watching intently and closely with what this council will allow and what they will get away with.  For me, I do not want to set preference by approving a project that has too many loose ends and is simply not ready.  There are unanswered questions about water, traffic, density, and other matters important for the safety and welfare for our upcountry residents.  Number two–archaeological study is incomplete and inadequate.

ARCHAEOLOGY:  “Representatives of the State Land Natural Resources told the committee that the archaeological study was incomplete.  So, should we allow the developer to get away with doing an incomplete study?  Longtime and respected residents with years of experience told the committee that at least one burial located in the middle of the proposed affordable senior housing unit was discovered and not mentioned in the latest application.  So I ask how any of you would feel if this were being done to you.  Where government allowed your family burial sites to be bulldozed and desecrated.  For Hawaiians, like so many cultures around the world, the iwi kupuna, the ancestral Native Hawaiian remains should be honored and treated with utmost respect.  As elected officials, we’re charged with helping to protect these burial sites and our host culture.  Again, should we allow the developer to get away with doing an incomplete study?  I say no.  The Planning Director opposes the project saying that it was the right project in the wrong place.

COMMUNITY PLANS: “The director also told us that the project goes against the current Makawao-Pukalani plans.  To me, these plans are really the plans of the people.  These plans are the result of years of significant community involvement and participation.  Our residents volunteered and sacrificed their time to listen to our communities and help to create documents that serve as guides for our future.  I ask, are we going on to reject and void all of their time and effort?  Again, why go through the process of creating community plans?  In one full sweep, we allow ourselves or anyone to brush them aside.  To simply ignore them.  If we do that, then let’s be honest–the process of creating these documents is a farce.  It’s a farce–then let’s stop wasting all the time of our residents who spent years preparing these documents.  My concern: What will our children’s Maui Nui look like years from now if we continue to ignore long-term planning for the future and constantly make exceptions to these documents.  Furthermore, the existing people that live in the area surrounding this project do not support the project.  The residents and families with children–the ones that currently live near or around the proposed project site and their concerns with safety and the impact on their neighborhood should be taken seriously.

WATER: “Another fact: there is no water.  What really has changed with regards to water is this development.  What they now have is a piece of paper.  Let me remind you that this agreement between the third parties–Piiholo South and Kula Ridge, and does not bind the county.  They have paper water. And the last time I checked, you can’t water your plants and nourish your family with paper water.  Regardless if you feel Piiholo South Well should or shouldn’t be purchased, the bottom line is this: Somehow, the water from the Piiholo South Well, which is supposed to create the water source for this project, will need to get from the eastern side of Makawao, all the way up to Kula.  To do this, it will need to be introduced into the county’s water system.  To introduce water into the county’s water system, adequate testing of water quality needs to occur.  First the department has said, on the record, that they have not tested as of this date.  So members I ask, can we consider this source of water valid?  Our Water Director opposed the project saying that with regards to the developer’s proposed water source, all there is is a hole in the ground.  In a letter dated September 21, the Department of Water Supply Director told the committee that one–there is no water source agreement between the county and the Piiholo South LLC, two–that it would be premature to review this application without the project having a verified and sustainable source of water, and three–the Department of Water Supply has not participated in water quality testing of the applicant’s water source and that TCP has been detected.  The state of California recognizes TCP as a human carcinogen.  The water Director recommended that water tests be performed, however, the well owner has said that he will not do the testing of the water.  I’ve taken it that the developer will not be testing this water as we can see as of today.  So here we are.  What’s alarming?  The developer has stated on the record that he intends to connect to the Upcountry water system.  Again, the county has not tested the water.  The developer will not be conducting tests.  And TCP has been detected.  My question: How will this affect all our residents on the Upcountry Water system.  Our law, the Maui County Code, requires that all water source agreements be approved by this Council.  Again, there is no water source agreement between the county and the developer.  And, even assuming, or making pretend that there were an agreement, it has not come before this council.  We all know that the reason the law was adopted was because of what happened with an agreement between our former mayor and Maui Land and Pine. The former Mayor unilaterally signed an agreement with Maui Land and Pine for the Piiholo North Well.  Like with today’s Kula Ridge project, no tests were conducted.  The question I ask: So what has happened? Years later, studies were done which resulted in less water than what had been represented by the developer.  The county recently terminated the contract.  Based on representations by the developer, we thought we had something, but we didn’t.  Will we learn from our past mistake?  The question I have: Why have a water Director?  Why pay someone who has the experience and expertise, things that we don’t have, if we simply go to ignore the advice?

UPCOUNTRY METER LIST: “Number 5, the Upcountry Meter List.  For me, what’s most troubling is that approval of this project allows the developer to cut in front on the line of residents currently on the Upcountry water list.  This list, codified as law under the Maui County Code, 14.13-060, was intended to provide a fair and uniform handling of applicants who have been denied water service as far back as 1977.  Let me read for you a list of people of the 1300 that I’ve so far contacted and what year they’ve been waiting from (… ).  I specifically asked the developer if he’d be willing to wait his turn in line like everybody else.  He said no.  In other words, Kula Ridge put thier names on the water meter list like everyone else–this initially following the law.  Their number was 1109 on the list, but apparently they got tired of waiting.  Again, the developer said no, he does not feel Kula Ridge should follow the law and wait in line like everyone else.  Allowing the developer to cut in line is unfair and disrespectful to the nearly 1300 applicants, all Maui residents, currently on the waiting list.  Longtime residents have said that it was the county who told them to put their names on this list.  It was the council that passed the law and promised that meters would be distributed in this order when water became available.  Residents did as they were told and followed the law, and have been waiting nearly 15 years for water meters to build homes, cottages, ohana units, homes for their children, for their parents and their grandparents.  Family have passed their land from generations, making monthly payments so they can realize their dream.  And now, the developer wants to cut in front of the line.  I think this is unacceptable.  I beleive we should pass the resolution to purchase Piiholo South Well outright.  The county Water Director said that the department was negotiating with the Well owner to purchase the Piiholo South Well outright.  Approving the Kula Ridge Project could hinder efforts to provide benefits to the greatest amount of people–those people on the Upcountry Meter waiting list.  Calculations show that they approval of Kula Ridge would provide those on the meter list only 323 water meters while the county’s outright purchase of the Piiholo South Well, if deemed workable, would provide residents with 1296 water meters. Providing 1,296 water meters to those on the wait list would allow residents to build hundreds of affordable and market units and thereby creates hundreds of jobs for our carpenters, electricians, painters, glazers, drywallers, tile setters.  Materials purchased from local stores would boost our economy.  Farmers on the list would be able to grow food.  We all know farmers–they are sincere, hard working and caring–often giving their produce to local carriers.  If our farmers received meters, they would be able to sell products to residents, local restaurants, and resorts, thus helping with economic diversification and self sustainability.

AFFORDABLE HOMES: “The developer represented that the Kula Ridge project would provide immediate affordable housing and jobs for our residents, yet at the eleventh hour, he opposed modifications requiring that the units be built within three years, and concurrently the sale of market lots.

CONCLUSION: “Conclusion: What message are we sending our residents and what are we teaching our children?  That they are regular people who follow the rules and wait their turn in line?  And then there are special people who have money who we allow to cut to the front of the line?  The special people don’t need a number and don’t need to be on the list.  Are we telling our residents our children and the developers watching that if you have money you can cut to the front of the line?  Members, we live in a community where we all know each other and where our families and friends are important to us.  To me, this kind of policy is so against the lifestyle of Maui County and how we deal with one another.  It’s against the things that we were taught growing up and hurts our community.  Again, members, if I’ve offended you in any way, and I didn’t intend to, I apologize.  You know how strongly I feel about this issue and for this reason I am going to be voting against this resolution.  And again, thank you for allowing me to speak tonight.  Thank you for putting up with the testimony that I provided.”

Sol Kahoohalahala: (A’ole-No) “I’m happy that we have a process that allows us to refine (I think) the project and the application to the point that we have.  I think that it is unfortunate that as was stated by Mr. Munekiyo–that we came to this late game change.  Unfortunately for me, while he considers it a late game change, I think some of the issues that I had a difficult time with were eliminated very early in the game and it didn’t allow me an opportunity to look at those at this very late game change.  And it is for those reasons.  I think that it’s clear that this project will get the support of this body, it appears to me, but I would like to state for the record that I will not be supporting it because of the fact that many of the things that we talked about very early in the game were eliminated because of this unclarity in terms of the projects themselves–whether they were merged, or whether they were separate–and therefore it eliminated those opportunities from being considered by this body.  So I’m going to not support it because I think had we had been given the information, upfront that we could have dealt with, it would have been more meaningful in terms of making those kinds of recommendations and conditions.  But at this point in time, some of the important ones that I’m concerned about are left out, and so therefore, I will just say that for this time, I cannot support this project.

Gladys Baisa: (Aye with reservations)  “As the area representative, I’d like to make a few remarks.  First of all, I’d like to say that I am very proud to be the representative of the Upcountry area.  This area has people in it that really care about their community and they don’t hesitate to get involved in issues and work hard and spend a whole lot of time trying to formulate positions.  One of the things that I respect from the Kula Community Association is, while they may not come out with a definitely “we support or we don’t support”, they take the time to sit down and craft mitigative measures and conditions.  So when they feel they have concerns, they put them in writing and they try to explain them and stand up for them because they feel very strongly about their community.  I know that the reasons they came–they were concerned about the condition of the road, the safety of their children.  They were concerned about possibly affecting the community life-style in the area, concerned about overcrowding, density, and those kinds of things.  They have a special lifestyle up in Kula that the residents there treasure very much.  So I understand the strong feelings.  I also understand the strong feelings that we all have and all of us that sit behind these desks–I know during our campaigns, particularly as member Medeiros said that class of 2006, the mantra at that time was affordable housing.  Today, it’s jobs and the economy.  But, four years ago it was definitely affordable housing and everybody was keyed into that–and it hasn’t gone away.  The need is still there and so this kind of a proposal deserves the time and tears and effort that this has taken.  We also have another layer added onto this of course and that is the economy and the jobs.  So we saw many people coming to talk about the importance of getting our economy going and getting people back to work.  My reget is that it’s going to take quite a while before that happens because of the process… But I’m glad that we took the time to do the conditions.  They make me feel, and I’m sure the folks in the area feel a lot better about the project.  I’m disappointed that we couldn’t solve the issue of the community center, because I certainly would like to have that once and for all under county ownership and I’m hoping that nobody will give that up.  We have to keep trying to get that.  I’m also a little disappointed that we were not given the information about who these folks are, but that’s their right.  That’s their prerogative.  The blending issue became very contentious and I saw both sides of it, and it kind of bothered me a little bit, but I think we worked it out.  I want to thank Mr. Munekiyo and also Clayton for being cooperative in that last amendment that we made in regards to the numbers of affordable houses and taking out the houses that belong to Kula Ridge Mauka.  I commend Mr. Munekiyo for his calmness.  It’s not easy to stand here and deal with us and he does a very professional job.  Water of course is a real issue for Upcountry.  It’s very contentious.  I was really glad that it was explained very clearly to me that the issues with the water would come at the next stage.  So for the people that are watching us, as we kind of wrap this up and they’re saying well what’s going to happen to the water, and the water list, and the meters and all that stuff that everybody is so passionate about, including myself, I am now clear that this will all be decided when Mr. Munekiyo and Mr. Nishikawa get to the subdivision approval point and they will have to deal with Show Me The Water–so that’s not gone away, it’s just postponed.  And as a result of all of this, I will be supporting the project today–I support it with reservations because I’m still concerned about a few things, but I can live with it.  And I’m really glad that we’ve come to the end of this and let’s give it a chance. And let’s hope for the best.”

JoAnne Johnson:(Aye)  “I want to thank all the individuals, whether they were for this project, against this project, expressed concerns–I want to thank the people for coming forward because we’re spending this time here.  There are people in the audience still at 10:30 in the evening and they’ve been here all day.  And they’ve been here repeatedly throughout this hearing process. To say that this has been arduous is really putting it very mildly.  It is difficult to make good decisions or to even think many times after long meetings and long hours and the staff as well– they’ve been with us during these long meetings and I wouldn’t want to transcribe all of the minutes that go along with this entire file.  But I want to reflect on something that one of our testifiers said today an it struck me at the time.  I think his name was Mr. Orikasa.  He was not really for the project or against the project, but he basically framed the discussion in such a way to say that–think about what we are doing and think about how the aloha spirit and about how we’ve all tried to solve problems in the old days, when he talked about the old days–he said we all came together and we helped one another–he said, that’s what this is about.  He said, you know, I understand about the water meter list, but you know, let’s look at it this way–that if by bringing this project forward, there’s 300 more people that may get water because the county up to this point has not been able to develop water–gosh, celebrate the fact that there’s 300 more people. Don’t bemoan the fact that yeah, the list is really long.  And I agree with Member Molina.  We talk about co-mingling, you know we co-mingled a few issues ourselves which further clouded the whole argument, or some of the arguments that we had.  I think for me, it’s not up to the private developer to solve Maui County’s water problems and to reduce the water meter list.  I agree with Mr. Orikasa, we should look at the glass as half full as opposed to half empty.  And I realize that there are concerns on both sides.  Perhaps another thing reflecting back on where this application first came from, maybe what we should have done is take a little bit more time with the first application and made it very clear to Mr. Nishikawa, if the issue was that these items were of concern to us, or there were two projects that were put into one, well we should have instructed him very clearly that when you come back, make sure that they are separate and distinct.  We could have done that.  So, I am not blaming, but I am just saying that sometimes when you look at things, it’s not Mr. Nishikawa’s fault if we haven’t really done our part as well. Maybe yes, maybe he missed some things too, maybe he missed some cues, maybe he could have worded things better.  But not one of us is perfect.  So, I look back at this and I say, well maybe there are some lessons to be learned from this whole process in that when we do reject an application in the future for whatever reason and the developer makes it clear that he intends to come back, let’s make sure that we hit all the issues and we get it on the record.  Because that might have helped to give some guidance towards this council in making the decision.  But I still, I believe that he’s done basically what we’ve asked of him.  If we weren’t clear enough, I apologize to Mr. Nishikawa for our shortcomings as well, but I think he’s tried to do the best that he can.  And I applaud Mr. Mayer and the other organizations that have come forward with suggesting conditions.  I thank Mr. Kahoohalahala for coming forward with perhaps what led up to maybe the removal or some of the distancing of these two projects from one another, so they are maybe more stand-alone.  By the same token, I also look at the fact that, wow, now there’s 11 units that we’re not getting that were affordable that we could have maybe gotten.  So, it’s a give and take.”

Mike Molina:(yes-Aye)  “In the terms of looking at Kula from the eyes of someone who grew up in Upcountry Maui, it was always looked at as a wonderful place to go to because of the scenic vistas, and the lifestyle, and so forth.  But, I guess over time, Kula has sort of evolved into a place where some people now look at as a place for the exclusive.  We all know land prices in Kula are generally much higher than the place where I’m from–Makawao… When I see the young people who are from the area and want an opportunity now to live there, well, here’s one project that could provide them that opportunity.  And yes, the issue of affordability was brought up, but for a piece of land in Kula, odd as it may sound, it’s pretty reachable and realistic for some.  But we should give that opportunity to the youngsters of the kama’aina who want to live up there too.  I think the young lady that we heard testifying today really touched on some key points.  We already have housing in that area with the Hawaiian Homes that is for those of the host culture, and that’s a great thing to see.  We should provide opportunities. I’ve always been uncomfortable with–I know our county forefathers decided to designate certain places on this island for the well-to-do, the have’s, but when it comes to Upcountry–I’ll just speak for myself–Upcountry is for all.  Keep the Country, Country as much as possible, but provide opportunities for people to live there.  The whole water meter issue came up, and I know it should not have been clouded with the whole matter, but in a way maybe it was a blessing that it was brought up because it just shows that whether it be this administration, or future administrations, that we better address this darn water meter issue.  There’s too many people that have been waiting on that list for a long, long time, and whether the water says Piiholo South or Hamakuapoko, or Kamaole Weir, whatever, it needs to get addressed.  So, maybe it was a blessing in disguise to draw attention to it.  When Mr. Victorino does get back, hopefully we’ll have a hearing on it to see what we can do to address this matter.  I want to thank the applicant for going through this process.  Boy I’ll tell you what–to say that he went through the ringer is an understatement, to say the least.  Whatever happens from here, Mr. Chair, I hope everybody can put their swords down and move on.  Hopefully this is a step forward in the direction that we all need to go to provide opportunities for our struggling families a chance at upward mobility in a place like Kula.”

Joe Pontanilla:(Aye)  “I will be supporting the main motion.  I think we’ve heard many testimonies in the several weeks that we’ve been dealing with this issue.  I think that with the modifications that we have–all 17 of them–I think we have a project that will provide affordable housing to a community and especially to those young professionals and other people in Kula that want to come back home to their birthplace.  I want to recogize Mr. Nishikawa for enduring this lengthy process because we all want affordable housing, but when it comes to affordable housing, there’s a lot of discussion, and sometimes we do a lot of modification or add conditions to different types of projects.  Here we are–because of the economic conditions–I think some of the modifications, hopefully doesn’t… it will affect the developer, but hopefully, not in a negative way–so that we all can realize the 59 affordable units that is being presented to us.  The 201H process is a fast-track process that was approved by the state of Hawaii.  We have 45 days to up or down a project.  I remember seven and a half years ago when we first went to the state legislature to change that so that we can have additional time to review projects–because none of us are experts in the things that the various departments do.  It creates hardship for all of us.  I don’t want to work 13 hours like we’re doing today.  I hate that.  But that’s why we’re elected–to make those tough decisions.  This hasn’t been easy.  A lot of people will be affected, I know–some in a good way, some in a bad way.  But again, I just want to recognize Mr. Nishikawa for enduring the questions that we presented to him as a developer for the Kula Ridge Project, the fast-track project that’s really not fast enough in some people’s eyes.  But for us, 45 days is a little bit too fast.”

Bill Medeiros:(Aye)  “I join my colleague(s) from Kahului and Makawao in saying that the process was very long, but I think important points of the discussion were brought up.  I think what I’d like to touch on more about this process and this particular project is that when I was elected and took the seat in January of 2007, affordable housing was on the platform of everybody.  Everybody said it was a priority for them to build affordable housing.  The 2.96 residential workforce housing policy had just passed in November of 2006 during the time that we got elected–and we meaning Ms. Baisa, Victorino, and I–but we didn’t get into office until January of 2007.  I have to say that Mr. Nishikawa, in bringing up the point that it has been so difficult to build affordable housing–and I agree with him–since I’ve been here closing in on four years, I think we can count how many affordable housing additions to our inventory on our maybe hands and toes.  It hasn’t been much.  Even though we have all professed to be strong advocates for affordable housing.  And you, Mr. Chairman, having been the author of the Workforce Housing policy, knew that that policy was to encourage developers to include affordable housing in their projects so that the county didn’t have to build them.  That we would encourage developers to help the county build affordable units for the people that live in Maui County that are looking for houses.  And all the testimony that we heard, all the meetings that we had on this project, it was overwhelming how much support this project got–and a lot from people that were either born and raised here, or have lived here all their lives and just wanted a place that they could call home. Many of them, as Mr. Molina said, whether they were born and raised in Kula and wanted to return there, or some even testified that they always had dreams of living in Upcountry in Kula, but the opportunities never came up because there wasn’t affordable housing.  So I have to commend the developer, Mr. Nishikawa for enduring this long and very testing process.  I think his consultant and representative Mr. Munekiyo, I have to say he is as professional as they come. He was able to keep his calm demeanor under some very difficult questions.  So between Mr. Munekiyo and Mr. Nishikawa, I think they have been able to move this project forward by their determination and by their patience.   And so I think we are all going to want to see this project when it finally becomes affordable housing for us, and hopefully, that it will encourage other builders of affordable housing to become a part of this process.”

Mike Victorino: Excused

***** If you enjoyed this post, you may also like our coverage of PRINCESS KAIULANI 135th BIRTHDAY event too.

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