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New Urbanism and Old Problems

KCA meeting discusses the future of ongoing issues.

April 4, 2013
Celeste Keele , The Maui Weekly

"Why are we building things that no one wants to paint?"

The audience clapped and laughed on Tuesday evening, March 19, as Dr. Lee Altenberg, former president of the Native Hawaiian Plant Society and professor at the University of Hawai'i, described his desires and history to help save the native flora and fauna of this island.

Altenberg spoke to a Sense of Place, a new feature of Kihei Community Association (KCA) meetings, which will provide different speakers and topics to help foster a sense of intimacy and connection with our unique and special area.

Article Photos

Lee Altenberg shares his “Sense of Place” and his work preserving the native plants of the island.

Altenberg grew up in a smog-filled section of California, he explained to an eager audience. He used to escape to the hills, to the wild areas, to get out of the pollution, he said. Over the years, he watched all these beautiful plants he loved get ripped out and watched more subdivisions get built.

He later came to Kihei for his dad's health--specifically for its warm, dry weather and low altitude. Here, he recognized his own Southern California.

He was "disappointed to see that they had paint-rolled sprawl all along this coast." People focus on the view here in Kihei, meaning the view of the ocean, he explained.

"But there's another show," he insisted. That show is all the native plants, including the endangered wiki wiki that are growing up in a neglected lava field, the future home of Honua'ula (formerly Wailea 670), where a "real Hawai'i" awaits our understanding and connection. This connection to the natural, native environment is what is missing, and it is that connection which is "ennobling" to the human spirit, according to Altenberg.

Our built environment here in Kihei is modular and disconnected, he posited. It is road, parking lot, smaller road--another parking lot. But things are changing, he said.

"About 25 years ago, people started to realize that it's not satisfying for the soul to live this way on the land," he said hopefully, speaking of the "new urbanism" (an urban design movement which promotes walkable neighborhoods containing a variety of housing and job types).

"Finally, there's some developers wanting to build old towns again," Altenberg concluded--places someone would want to paint, like Makawao Town. "You don't see any paintings of Lipoa Center," he jested.

If you are looking for a way to give back that works with your schedule, here's your chance. Asking for volunteers for a great cause, Betsy Scheller spoke next representing Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a nonprofit organization with 180 volunteers who help seniors in any way they can--transportation, cleaning, talking story, shopping, etc.

They sign up to do "just what they like," Scheller smiled. Even as little as one hour a week is appreciated.

"You can do a little or a lot, or nothing at all," Scheller quipped. But it often results in more, as "volunteers end up being very close to the clients they serve. It's amazing to me how many people here are isolated, if they don't have family here. If you know someone who isn't getting their needs met, call us and we'll enroll them in the program."

Reach Neighbors Helping Neighbors at (808) 249-2545.

Pump Don't Dump was next on the lineup. This is a several years' old grassroots initiative to stop charter tour boats from emptying their sewage tanks into the ocean.

Why focus on this when there's so many other chemical pollutants in the ocean now? asked KCA President Mike Moran, one of the founders of Pump Don't Dump. Because it's something we can do, he insisted. It's "one thing that can be fixed."

Many boats now pump and have for several years-- especially the bigger companies like the Pacific Whale Foundation and Trilogy. But Moran and others like him are concerned about the other smaller boats that may not be using the state's pump and tank because of inconvenience, or because the boat owners don't have their own pump because of price ($17,000), said Moran.

Unfortunately, Moran lamented, boat owners and companies can still say, "Well, it [dumping human waste in the ocean] is not illegal."

"What can we do?" Moran asked. We can send our opinion to the governor and to our county leaders. See for more information.

For an update on Pi'ilani Promenade's retail and Maui Outlets shopping centers' past and possible future here in South Maui, Mark Hyde, president of South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth, and KCA board member and vice president, began by elucidating three smart-growth principles: transparency, following the law and public engagement. And all are absent in this development, which is, instead, classic urban sprawl, Hyde asserted.

"But why would you in South Maui want a light industrial park, as opposed to a retail shopping complex?" was a question that's often been posed by the public, claimed Hyde. But for the purposes of this state Land Use Commission (LUC) hearing, the only question was: "Were the landowners complying with the order?" That was it, said Hyde. And per the LUC's decision, they weren't.

Eclipse Development LLC said the company purchased land with all of its entitlements, and therefore believed their project met the county's zoning laws regarding permitted light-industrial uses. Those uses included retail--such as that found at the Maui Marketplace and the Lahaina Gateway Center--both of which are also zoned light industrial. The project was also supported by Maui County's Planning Department officials, who agreed the requirements for the project had been met and that Eclipse could legally proceed. The developers said the project will create 200 construction jobs and 1,800 permanent jobs when completed.

Hyde went on to explain some of the history of the case, and his involvement with the case. According to Hyde, the County of Maui was not enforcing the law it was charged to enforce regarding this contested piece of ranch land (behind construction dust fences, mauka of the Pi'ilani Highway and across from Ka'ono'ulu Road). When Hyde and some members of the community heard about the project over a year ago in a newspaper article, they were told by local leaders it was a done deal and that it was fully entitled years before, according to Hyde.

When asked, "Where were you in 1994 when you had a chance to speak?" Hyde explained that that project was the original project and fully supported by the KCA. So after looking carefully into the legality of this current project, he realized "the community had to call the question or lie down and accept it."

The resulting four-day contested case hearing found a failure on the part of the developers to comply with state conditions: no frontage road in the plans, a failure to file annual reports, and a failure to build something like was represented.

"We were successful in that," Hyde attested. Now, "a variety of outcomes are possible."

No matter what happens, that land will be developed one way or another, he insisted, but "we have to be vigilant. We need to develop that area in a way that can be additive to the community."

Meanwhile, other projects are moving ahead, Hyde pointed out, with a potential Target store coming to Kahului and the Downtown Kihei project being built on 27 acres bisected by Pi'ikea Avenue (near the Safeway complex).

"And we're in a changing world, too," said Hyde. With more online shopping and these other developments, "there just might not be enough demand for that kind of retail in Kihei."

"The key is having a group of people who is committed and knowledgeable--and open, so they can work with the government," asserted George Rixey, architect and former KCA president, who finished up the meeting with his take on smart growth in Kihei. "Otherwise, it's always going to be a battle."

In terms of how to improve our built environment, it's all about "integration and connectivity," Rixey offered, as well as thinking at least 100 years into the future.

The KCA encourages your suggestions and involvement. The next monthly meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 16, at 6:30 p.m., at Kihei Charter School at 65 East Lipoa St. in Kihei.



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