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Posted at 1:08 p.m., Friday, September 7, 2007

Maui sidesteps land-use standards for Boys & Girls Club

By HARRY EAGAR
The Maui News

LAHAINA The county has decided to give itself a pass on complying with its own zoning laws in order to push forward with a $2.2 million replacement for the Boys & Girls Club of Maui's building at the Lahaina Recreation Center, The Maui News reported.

"It will be a beautiful facility," said Jonathan Starr, chairman of the club board, at a meeting of the County Council Land Use Committee Wednesday night at Lahaina Civic Center.

It's just that it won't be a fully legal one.

Council Member Michelle Anderson pointed out the problem, noting that permits are not supposed to be issued unless all three levels of land use are consistent: state land-use classification; a county community plan designation; and, finally, county zoning.

The two-acre site for the club has never been taken out of the state agricultural district. In fact, no part of the 20-acre aquatic and recreational center has been classified as urban.

So the Department of Parks and Recreation decided it would just get a county conditional permit to build the Boys & Girls Club building.

Council Member Jo Anne Johnson, a West Maui resident and former chairwoman of the Boys & Girls Club board, was eager to do it.

Council Member Gladys Coelho Baisa, a former head of a nonprofit (Maui Economic Opportunity), was eager to grant the permit for as long as possible at least 10 years. Without a long tenancy, it is hard to recruit staff or donors, she said.

Anderson was disturbed that the county would sidestep its land-use standards.

"No private developer out there would be able to do this," she said.

"Our intent was to expedite this building." said Patrick Matsui, planner for the parks department.

Getting all the land-use designations in line would take years, he said. That led to another wrangle about how many years.

Anderson wanted to craft a condition to require that the county get the correct zoning within three years. Since it has already granted itself a community plan designation for park, the hardest part would be to get state urban district approved for the Lahaina Aquatics/Recreation Center site before the council could approve zoning.

Baisa objected that three years wouldn't be enough. It would take a year, at least, to get a consultant to prepare the application.

Maybe more than a year, she suggested. Five years would be a more reasonable grant of time to get the paperwork done to have all the land-use designations in place for the Boys & Girls Club facility. Holding up the project to get the zoning in place was not an option.

"To change it is kind of late," said Matsui, since the contracts have already been let.

"Three years is a short time" to do it the correct way, he added. "We'd have to budget for a consultant."

Anderson acknowledged that the community wants the club and that the council wasn't about to say no.

Starr, a Maui Planning Commission member, agreed that the county should follow its own laws but also noted that doing it correctly will take time.

"I support Michelle Anderson," he said, adding that, "five years might be more realistic considering the glacial way things move in the county government."

Johnson cautioned that county lawyers had warned the council just last week that it cannot give directions to county departments. (That's the mayor's job.) So Anderson asked for a recess to craft a condition that told the parks department what it had to do, with enough wriggle room in the language to satisfy Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux that the letter of that law, at least, was being adhered to.

Anderson had earlier said it would be easy for the county to fix its error, since on a two-acre lot it can bypass the LUC.

Somewhere along the way, however, that thought got lost.

Anderson asked Planning Director Jeff Hunt if he understood that the council's intent is that the county should get legal on the entire Lahaina Aquatic and Recreation Center lot.

"I understand that condition 10 applies to the entire parcel," Hunt said.

The Boys & Girls Club lot may entail just two acres within the park, but it is not being subdivided out. It couldn't be. You cannot subdivide if zoning is not consistent, a point on which the council has been a stickler in applying it to other land use disputes.

Since the entire lot is bigger than 15 acres, the application for urban classification would have to go to the state Land Use Commission, for a full hearing process that normally takes eight to 12 months.

The committee voted 7-0 to approve the conditional permit, with condition 10 requiring that the parks department get the zoning straight in five years.

Anderson also told Starr the club should negotiate a lease or license with the county. Starr said the club had been trying to do so for years.

During construction of the new building, the club will move into the West Maui Cultural Center.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.