The community maps were on the wall. Audience surveys were handed out. Environmental advocates were prepared to speak and answer questions.
Everything was set for an educational panel discussion on the South Maui element of the Maui Island Plan at the Tuesday, April 17, meeting of the Kihei Community Association (KCA). Maui County Planning Director Will Spence and Senior Planner John Summers gave brief presentations on the background of the plan, and Land Use Planner Bill Frampton provided an informative PowerPoint presentation on small town development principles and on the growth of Kihei from 1933 to the present.
It was all going according to plan--until Kihei resident Tom Kelly stood up to ask Spence why the Eclipse Development Group was being allowed to build a huge mall above Pi'ilani Highway when no one wanted it.
The white areas and red boundary lines around them represent the size of Kihei and Makena in 1933, before water was piped in and when South Kihei Road was primarily a dirt and gravel trail.
Kelly's question generated sustained applause from the more than 100 attendees, and at that point, the meeting's schedule was thrown out the window as additional questions were asked and answers demanded from panel members Spence and South Maui County Councilmember Don Couch.
The proposed mall, as described on the KCA Website, will extend "more than three quarters of a mile along the highway" with 700,000 square feet of commercial space. The site notes that the mega mall will be located at Kaonoulu Street, mauka of Pi'ilani Highway, and would be anchored by two big box stores.
The mall's developer maintains a Website that outlines two projects in Kihei. The first is described as "Maui Outlets" and is to be " located on Maui's South Side at the center of the island's tourist resorts and attractions in Lahaina and Ma'alaea Harbor."
The company's Web page notes that the outlet mall will be developed on "a roughly 30-acre site of pristine real estate, and is expected to have a gross leasable area of approximately 300,000 square feet."
When the Upcountry road is completed, the developer expects the mall to see 78,000 cars per day--double the current traffic flow.
The second project, described as the "Pi'ilani Promenade," is made up of roughly 68 acres of developable land on Pi'ilani Highway. Calling the property "truly irreplaceable," Pi'ilani Promenade is currently in the pre-development phase and pre-leasing for spaces from 1,000 square feet to 160,000 square feet. The projected grand opening for Pi'ilani Promenade is early 2014.
Responding to heated questions about the project, Spence told the audience, "The county chose not to put any conditions limiting retail in the project. Whether we like it or not, they have legal entitlements to develop it. They have a legal right to construct a shopping mall."
Mike Trottle called that reasoning a double standard. "What happened 15 to 20 years ago should not apply. This does not meet our standards today," he told Spence.
Zoning for the project was conducted in 1995. There was no community protest at the time.
"If the community plan says one thing and zoning says another, is there anything we can do to enforce the community plan?" Couch asked Spence.
Spence replied, "Someone would have to challenge those entitlements through the Land Use Commission."
"When somebody goes through the process and gets the legal right to construct on the property, that does not go away," Spence told another questioner. "That is part of the legal process."
One tactic to delay, but not derail the project, was offered by Couch and supported by Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow. That option is to seek a revised, updated traffic study that reflects today's current reality--not that of 1995.
"I hope we can get them to redo the traffic study," Couch said. "This project had four conditions, and they were crummy conditions--not even standard," he added.
Constance Williams, a local nurse, asked, "We hear all about business and development, but why are we not talking more about the green space? When we connect with the green space--the sacred spaces--we do better. What about the right to have more green space and live on the land?"
Couch agreed, saying, "We need separation between communities. We need green space."
Frampton pointed out that, "The pattern we are seeing is an unsustainable pattern. With a smart code [smart growth model zoning code], we can efficiently develop and preserve open space at the same time."
It was left to Kehau Filimoe'atu, General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) member, and a representative of the Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) advocacy group, to offer a perspective for South Maui.
"I am here on behalf of FACE, and my mission is to invite you to participate because you are from this place, and you know this place better than any others," she said.
Filimoe'atu urged continued involvement in the general plan process, telling audience members "to let them know what you want," and reminding the group "You have the power to do what you can for your community."
For more information on the mall development and other issues affecting South Maui, visit the KCA Website at www.GoKihei.com.