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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 4:31 p.m., Saturday, August 18, 2007

Maui bill proposes prohibiting superstores

The Maui News

WAILUKU — The Maui County Council Planning Committee took an initial step Tuesday on a bill to amend county zoning laws to prohibit large discount retailers, sometimes known as "superstores," The Maui News reported.

The committee recommended that the bill to prohibit superstores in Maui County should be forwarded to the three county planning commissions for review as well as to the Hana Advisory Committee, the Maui Planning Commission and the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission.

Council Chairman Riki Hokama said at the meeting that he introduced the bill when he became aware that other counties in the state are working on similar legislation.

The Kaua'i County Council in May approved a law prohibiting retail or wholesale store larger than 75,000 square feet. Kaua'i is the first in the state to implement a ban on large stores.

"I don't have a problem being considered a protector, if that's what it takes to protect local people and the economy," Hokama explained after discussing how big-box stores such as Target and Wal-Mart try to dominate their marketplaces.

Hokama said he understood that people want to buy goods at discount prices. But he said oversized discounters can have an impact on the overall economy when they affect smaller businesses.

"Is it worth it?" he said. "It's time for us to address those hard questions."

Hokama said whatever decision is made on the bill, it will be based on what the people want.

Hokama's bill would set limits on retail facilities or expansion of retail facilities exceeding 90,000 square feet, offering more than 25,000 different products or dedicating more than 20,000 square feet to groceries.

Several businesses on Maui already qualify as superstores, including: Costco at 136,000 square feet; Wal-Mart, at 141,892 square feet; and Home Depot, at 150,500 square feet.

Prior to the committee's meeting, a yellow flier was mailed anonymously to Maui residents seeking support of Hokama's bill, noting that the issue was to go before the Planning Committee, and asking, "Do we want Maui, Hawaii, or anywhere USA?"

Council members and union leaders said this week that they did not know who sent the flier or where it came from.

Apparently the flier did little to generate public interest in the bill Tuesday as there were only a handful of individuals to testify on both sides of the issue.

Consumer Sylvia Cabral said the superstores are bad news.

"No self-respecting person should be caught dead in Wal-Mart," she said. "All we want is cheap, cheap, cheap. Even Kmart is empty because it's cheaper at Wal-Mart."

Cabral said many products in those stores are not made in Hawai'i or the U.S. and charged that foreign governments and big businesses are the primary beneficiaries from the export of low-cost goods to U.S. discount stores.

"All the money is going to China. Not the nice Chinese people, we are talking about the Chinese."

Rob Parsons, former county environmental coordinator, said he doesn't like the "Dairy Road gauntlet of fast foods and parking lots and big-box stores" which is one of the first things visitors see when they come to the island.

"We are beginning to look like anytown U.S.A."

He added that the mom-and-pop stores he was familiar with are gone, because they "couldn't compete, plain and simple."

"I don't think this bill is anti-business; I think it will enhance local business," Parsons said.

But Kahului Wal-Mart Manager Chanda Keawe disputed Cabral's comments and said Wal-Mart supports the local community while providing jobs.

She said 40 percent of the items in Hawai'i Wal-Marts are from local vendors.

There are approximately 53 Maui suppliers and vendors providing products to the store here, she said.

Keawe said the bill is "anti-competition and unfair," especially to the local vendors.

On Maui, she said, Wal-Mart is a large employer of local people and the store also makes large donations to the community.

Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap said as the county is reviewing the General Plan it would be "premature" to change the zoning laws to prohibit superstores. Instead of proposing a moratorium, she said, smart growth principles should be implemented.

While Maui retailers "feared" the arrival of the large discounters, she said they were able to adjust to meet the change in the market.

Council Member Bill Medeiros, whose district is East Maui, encouraged his fellow members to refer the bill to the Hana Advisory Committee, saying that East Maui residents may have a hard time making it to Maui Planning Commission meetings held in Wailuku on weekdays.

When East Maui residents come into Central Maui, he said, they make stops at Longs, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Costco. He said those discount stores offer staples such as eggs, milk and prescriptions at competitive prices.

"I think it's very important they have a chance to contribute to this discussion," Medeiros said.

Joe Alueta, county administrative planning officer, asked the council to amend the bill to make it similar to the Kauai law. He suggested having the bill define either where superstores could be or set limits and development standards in the different zoning areas or districts.

While it is appropriate to base restrictions on square footage, he said the provision to define a superstore by the number of products sold in the retail outlets would be difficult to enforce.

Offering no changes, Hokama made a motion to refer the bill to the planning commissions and other agencies and to attach copies of the other islands' legislation as part of the review.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.