The Maui County Council is currently making final revisions to the Maui Island Plan (MIP). This plan has been under review for five years, through five levels of citizen and planner input.
The plan was drafted by professional community planning consultants, then reviewed by the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC), which held meetings in all regions of Maui to gain community input.
GPAC's approved draft of the MIP was further reviewed and revised by the county Planning Commission, Planning Department staff and the 2008-10 County Council Planning Committee. That draft was then turned over to Mayor Alan Arakawa's administration's Planning Department and planning director. Two sets of directors and County Council Planning Committees have also reviewed the plan. The council review and revision with public comment is the last step before a final version of the plan goes to a vote in the next few months. County Planning Department Director Will Spence continues to advise the council during this process.
Although the Maui Island Plan is in its final stages, fundamental questions still exist about its purpose, how it should be used and what it should include. “In large part, our Maui General Plan has yet to be implemented or enforced by any administration or council,” said County Councilmember Elle Cochran. “In my opinion, our island does not resemble the plan that is presently in place.”
"The plan's had plenty of discussion," said Lucienne de Naie, one of 25 GPAC members. "Compromises and concessions resulted in a draft that everyone could agree on. What the council has before them is the result of hundreds of peoples' input."
But fundamental questions still exist about the purpose of the MIP, how it should be used and what it should include.
"In large part, our Maui General Plan has yet to be implemented or enforced by any administration or council," said Councilmember Elle Cochran. "In my opinion, our island does not resemble the plan that is presently in place."
Spence considers the MIP to be "a general vision of where we want to go, but there can be unintended consequences if this plan is used in a regulatory way. These kinds of plans must always balance preserving our environment with allowing for population growth and new homes for our residents. Both goals are essential for Maui."
Addressing the question about MIP's use as a tool to regulate growth and development, versus a recommendation from which ordinances and legislation are created, de Naie said, "By statute, it is supposed to be both. It's required to have policies that set 'desired levels' of population growth and regulate land use to 'manage growth.' From these policies, new ordinances and laws are created."
De Naie explained that the GPAC's goal was to develop a plan with clear policies that related back to maps showing urban growth boundaries, areas recommended for protection of cultural resources, marine resources, agricultural lands, high risk areas and sensitive ecosystems. The original consultants made the MIP more detailed than past plans to help provide clear guidelines for future decision-making.
"The maps are a vital reference to guide implementation of long-range policies in the MIP," added de Naie.
According to Spence, only the growth maps are required by law to be included in the plan. He is hesitant about using the other informational maps as tools of policy for three reasons. "Some of the proposed maps are inaccurate," he said. This can lead to difficulties for landowners. I'm very concerned about the effect of the maps on the small landowner in particular. The large landowner can afford to hire consultants, while the small owner very often doesn't have the means."
County Councilmember Mike White agreed: "Mapping errors exist already and have led to huge hassles for confused landowners. Accurate maps would be very useful, but the maps submitted with the plan aren't accurate enough to be used for regulation. They work well as reference maps and should be included as such."
De Naie agreed that all maps need constant upgrading. However, she said, "If we vow to protect reefs, we should connect that promise to NOAA's [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] reef maps. If we want to protect viewsheds, we should specify the consultants' maps of where those high-value viewsheds are located."
"They are useful references," said Cochran, adding that problems arise when items have been deliberately omitted or erroneously added.
Spence is also concerned that maps pointing out landmarks such as waterfalls could be the county's version of Maui Revealed, the guidebook that disclosed remote and sacred areas of Maui to the tourist population. "Treasure hunters would have the exact locations of cultural sites," he said. "Is this a good idea?"
Finally, Spence believes that policies used as regulation-meaning they are enforceable-should go through the legislative process. He supports the inclusion of the maps as references.
"It covers a lot, and I hope the public pays attention and realizes how important the plan is to our future," said Councilmember Gladys Baisa, who attended many GPAC meetings.
But she worries that "the plan is too long, which will make it hard to administer. I'd like to see us make it more concise."
Having combined the wishes of hundreds of citizens into a single document, de Naie wants to be assured that the plan will be used in an active way-as the voice of the people who are deciding how their island should progress. She believes the use of the word "shall" is important when used in the plan's policies. The council has frequently amended that word to "encourage" and "recommend." De Naie wonders what that actually means and how seriously the policies will be taken.
The fate of the maps and the strength of the language in the plan continue to be topics of discussion.
"The residents of Maui can help shape the future of our island by showing up, testifying and dialoguing with their council representatives," Councilmember Cochran said.
Maui County officials urge residents to read the MIP on the county Website.
Anyone can still participate, but if you have input, now is your last chance to give it.