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Public Opinion Split on Shopping Centers & Apartments

Significant amount of testimony at land use hearing strongly favors Kihei projects.

February 21, 2013
Susan Halas - Senior Contributing Writer (wailukusue@gmail.com) , The Maui Weekly

In case you're keeping score, it is 2-0 in the battle over future Pi'ilani Promenade on Maui Outlets shopping centers and apartment development in Kihei. Though the civic groups opposing the development, joined by the state Office of Planning, have won both rounds at the state Land Use Commission (LUC) hearings, the voice of the general public chorus on the sidelines seems to be singing different tune.

The question at the LUC is very narrow. It only asks if the landowners are going to build what they said they were going to build, or did they attempt to substitute something substantially different without filing an amendment? And now, what is the next step?

There has been ample public testimony, and much of it has addressed a much broader question. Does Maui want these shopping centers and housing or not? And many have come forward to say, in effect, it doesn't matter to us what the LUC said in 1995; we think these are good projects and we want them to be built.

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About 100 people attended the Thursday, Feb. 7, meeting of the state Land Use Commission to hear the final oral arguments and decision of the commission relating to the status of an 88-acre parcel of land in Kihei. The audience included members of the general public--both opponents and supporters. Many of those present were affiliated with the construction trades.

That testimony and point of view has not prevailed during the hearing, because that is not the question before the commission.

Opinion, as reflected by the actual testimony, is split on the proposed development. Indeed, a significant amount of the testimony has strongly favored the projects.

Members of the public, as well as organized labor and the building trades, were present and testified at every public hearing held by the LUC. They have repeatedly shown support for these projects as they are now conceived. They have consistently testified they want the jobs, the start of the major Upcountry road, infrastructure improvements and shopping opportunities they say will be generated.

Support has also come from area residents and business owners. Those who favor the developments say a small but vocal group is holding up improvements that many others who live here favor.

Some backers defend the way the project's evolution was handled, saying, "off the record," that if the developers had gone in for an amendment, as was informally recommended by the state Office of Planning prior to litigation, that action in and of itself would have triggered long delays--as much as two years--and many other requirements that were not in existence in 1995.

Since the county told the builders they were in compliance and issued grading permits, they had no reason to believe any further action was necessary. If the developers were in compliance under standard county zoning and practices, then why incur all that time and unnecessary expense? How long would the funding for $200 million stick around if it became a long drawn-out process?

It now seems likely the landowners will find out the answers to those questions.

"They knew what they were doing. They took a calculated risk, and they were wrong." This is what those who oppose the projects say, and this is the point of view that has so far prevailed in a quasi-judicial setting.

The most recent ruling was clearly a setback for those who were hoping for a go-ahead.

"They did it fairly, but it was disappointing," said Willy Greig, business agent for Operating Engineers Local 3, in reaction to the 6-3 vote.

Also present for the start of the meeting and testifying in favor of proceeding with the projects was Randy Piltz, a retired electrical contractor, a former county planning commissioner and a former chairman of the LUC, who testified as an individual.

"Eighteen-hundred low-paying jobs?" he asked, referring to the number of employment opportunities expected to be generated by the development, in response to those who questioned the value of the jobs created. "How about 1,800 no-paying jobs?"

In his public testimony on Thursday, Feb. 7, Piltz noted the role of the LUC is to "take agricultural land to urban. The LUC did that," he said. "The rest is the county's responsibility"

"I spoke as a citizen," Piltz said, when later asked for his reaction. "A lot of people are in favor of this, and I'm one of them."

 
 
 

 

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