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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 10:55 p.m., Friday, August 8, 2008

Plan presented to preserve Honolua Bay on Maui

The Maui News

LAHAINA - Maui Land & Pineapple Co., Maui County and community groups introduced a complex proposal to preserve thousands of acres in and around Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay in exchange for new zoning allowances - including 630 short-term rentals - in ML&P's Kapalua Mauka project district, The Maui News reported yesterday.

ML&P Land and Property Manager Kalani Schmidt said Wednesday that the company intends to apply this fall for the land-use changes that must be approved by the Maui County Council. ML&P hopes to have approvals in hand before the end of 2009, she said.

The original Lipoa Point luxury housing development is no longer part of the equation, Schmidt said.

Instead - if the tentative compromise accord is approved - it could mean placing almost eight miles of world-renowned coastline, from Honolua Bay to Nakalele Point, and 3,467 acres of agricultural, forest and watershed lands in public trusts or in protected state conservation districts.

"Conceptually, the administration is in support of the proposal," said Mayor Charmaine Tavares' spokeswoman, Mahina Martin.

Martin added that officials expect the plan likely will undergo revisions as it moves through the local legislative process.

Members of the Save Honolua Coalition, Honolua Advisory Council and the county administration stood together in support of the plan Wednesday for the first of several presentations on what the company dubbed its "Lipoa Point/Honolua Conservation Compromise."

"This plan has limited direct costs to Maui taxpayers," said Schmidt, who fielded most of the questions from the crowd of about 100 at the Lahaina Civic Center Wednesday evening.

The allowances for transient vacation rentals in the unrelated Kapalua Mauka development and a collection of public park credits would replace prior suggestions by leaders and the public that the county purchase the unappraised property outright. The potential added value of the Kapalua Mauka change has not been determined.

However, meeting organizers all acknowledged that a lot of work still needs to be done, not the least of which is garnering broad island support for the plan.

"We have an opportunity to band together and have success," said Dickie Moon of the Honolua Advisory Council. "This is a proposal that makes sense, and the deal that will be done is really one between the company and the government."

The community groups organized last year in response to ML&P's controversial plan to build an 18-hole golf course and 40 luxury home sites on lands at Lipoa Point along with a cultural and surf park at Honolua Bay. The Lipoa Point development proposal drew widespread condemnation, and ML&P withdrew the designs.

Since January, group members, the mayor's liaisons and ML&P officials have been hammering out the new proposal.

The ML&P proposal. presented to a mostly receptive, but also very inquisitive, audience, includes:

* Create a independently controlled Lipoa Land Trust to protect and manage the 255 acres at Lipoa and Honolua Bay, involving lands that were planned for the golf course and a residential subdivision.

* Establish a public and privately funded $6 million to $8 million endowment for the Lipoa trust.

* Designate 3,000 acres as conservation easement to add to ML&P's current partnership with the state for the Puu Kukui watershed preserve.

* Petition to designate 212 acres of fields mauka of Lipoa Point as "important agricultural land," which is a new district designation for lands to be protected for agricultural use set up by the state Legislature and state Land Use Commission.

In return ML&P wants:

* Additional value at Kapalua Mauka, which is already in a designated resort area, with zoning enhancements that would allow for 630 residential units to be used as short-term vacation rentals. No new units will be added to the Kapalua Mauka project district.

* Kapalua Mauka would receive zoning to build a 60-room "boutique" hotel, comparable to the Hotel Hana Maui.

* 1,200 county park credits currently valued at $32.46 million or 14.4 acres of land.

"This is a significant discount to the taxpayer," Schmidt said.

The county Parks and Recreation Department requires a West Maui builder to pay $27,050 or hand over 500 square feet of land per housing unit. The money typically comes in as each unit is finished, with the county using the funds or land to create parks to accompany new residential subdivisions.

Schmidt said the company needs to "create value" through the tax credits and new vacation rental zoning, especially considering its current financial situation. ML&P is a publicly held corporation and recently had to cut 274 positions in a restructuring designed to cut costs in face of slumping revenues, she noted.

She also said the park credit deal is a good one because the county will be receiving its park land, the 255 acres at Lipoa/Honolua, upfront.

As for the 630 vacation rentals, none of them will be in affordable housing units, she said. The county Residential Workforce Housing Policy will require the company to match the luxury resort units with affordable housing. But with Kapalua Mauka, the plan is for the affordable housing to be constructed at other properties, Schmidt said.

ML&P has proposed its 300-acre Pulelehua mixed-use village at Mahinahina. It would provide some of the required affordable housing.

In 2006, the County Council and Maui Planning Commission approved project district zoning and off-site infrastructure for Kapalua Mauka, which is the second phase of an expansion of the Kapalua Resort.

While the Tavares administration has been cracking down this year on unpermitted vacation rentals in residential areas, short-term rentals are already allowed in the Kapalua Resort, Villas and Residences, Schmidt said.

Also on Wednesday, the Save Honolua Coalition and the Honolua Advisory Council presented its "One Plan One Pulse" mission statement, which is to maintain open space, public access and revitalize the ecosystem through community-based management utilizing Hawaiian values and practices.

Save Honolua Coalition President Kahu David Kapaku said he's heard mostly positive responses from group members about what ML&P is willing to give up and asked for more citizen input.

A number of audience members said they remained skeptical about ML&P's intentions.

County Council candidate Lucienne de Naie, a Sierra Club leader, said the compromise sounds good, but she charged that the company has not always followed through on its conservancy pledges in the past.

County Council Member Jo Anne Johnson, who holds the West Maui residency seat, said after the meeting that she wants to know the actual value of what ML&P wants versus the value of the Lipoa/Honolua land that it's giving up.

Last year, Johnson earmarked $1 million in county funds as gesture toward purchasing all the land. She also said on Wednesday that she wants to see more of the area preserved.

"The only other way we can do this is if someone has a whole lot of money and wants to donate it," Moon said.

In response to questions from the audience Wednesday, Schmidt also said that residential housing is not allowed in the new state classification of "important agricultural land." But some homes for sustainable farms may be permitted.

However, she said the company has no plans for development in the acreage that would remain in agricultural designation mauka of the Lipoa Point lands.

"The rest of the land in the area is zoned ag and will remain zoned ag," she said.

Another council candidate, Don Couch, said ML&P's plan left a good impression, but he had concerns about infrastructure costs to the county and what affect more vacation rentals would have on traffic in what is now really a rural area.

Schmidt also said the proposal is not an open-ended deal. If not accepted, it will eventually go away, she said, except she didn't know what could replace it.

* Chris Hamilton can be reached at chamilton@mauinews.com.