Long-anticipated Waikapū Country Town — the island’s largest residential project in recent history — could move faster if a public-private partnership that trades infrastructure for more affordable homes gets approved, project officials said Thursday.
“If all goes well, we would hope that we could have the first set of homes ready in about three years,” project attorney Jeffrey Ueoka told Maui Now.
Waikapū Country Town by landowner Mike Atherton has been in the works for more than a decade, and key county and state approvals are still needed to break ground.
The development has gained widespread community support, though. And Maui County Council in 2019 gave the green light to plans that call for 1,433 single-family, multifamily and rural units, as well as 146 ohana units; 200,000 square feet of commercial space; 82 acres of parks and open space; 8 miles of sidewalks, paths and trails; a 12-acre elementary school; and a 910-acre agricultural preserve.
Ueoka said if Maui County Council affirms the resolution and the mayor signs off on the agreement, then the public-private partnership could accelerate the project.
“We don’t think this will delay, we think this will help,” Ueoka said during council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee meeting on Thursday.
The council committee is considering a resolution on Mayor Michael Victorino’s recently proposed public-private agreement, which says that the county will handle traffic mitigation and wastewater infrastructure in exchange for Waikapū Country Town to build 213 more affordable units.
Under the new proposal, the development would have 500 workforce units. To add the affordable homes, Atherton would slice the number of market units so density remains the same, Ueoka said during the committee meeting Thursday.
Another major component is the state’s new interest in Waikapu Country Town. State legislators have been in talks with the developer to accommodate an elementary and intermediate school by adding more land to the school site.
“State came to Mr. Atherton because they wanted the school,” Ueoka said in response to a committee question on how the new plan came about. “It kind of morphed into something bigger regarding infrastructure for more affordable housing and the school. Then the administration was brought in eventually to start the discussions.”
Meeting participants said the agreement could benefit the state, the county and the development. County department heads called it a “win-win.”
“I refer it as a win-win-win,” Atherton said. “I believe that this is the beginning of a potential where the county and the state and the fed get involved in helping with infrastructure, which will ultimately help with affordable housing.”
Moreover, it could signal a better way of creating affordable units in Maui County, some public testifiers said.
“We believe that this type of partnership — government providing the infrastructure and developer providing affordable homes — can be the new way to build affordable homes for the people in Maui County,” Stan Franco, president of nonprofit Stand Up Maui, which advocates for affordable housing, said in written testimony. “Make this happen now.”
“My hope is that we use this development project as a model,” said taro farmer Bobby Pahia, who represents 23 different farming operations on Atherton’s land.
Various residential housing developers have long said their plans get loaded by the county and the state with water, road and sewer obligations, which hike costs and slow construction.
The Maui County Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan released last year called for the county to shoulder more of the burden for infrastructure.
The council committee on Thursday recessed the Waikapū Country Town resolution item so details of the agreement could be ironed out. Discussion will resume at the next Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee on March 23.