Kahoma Village: The triumph of 'mundanity'
As a former resident of Maui now living in California, I was incredulous to learn recently that the Maui County Council so effortlessly approved the construction of the Kahoma Village Project in Lahaina. This project is truly a triumph of "mundanity" over vision and enterprise. This swift endorsement for a project of such palpable overcrowding is as curious as it is disappointing.
It was two years ago this month when my partners, Drake Thomas, Al Pelayo and I sat in the community center in Lahaina and listened to Stanford Carr and his staff present his vision for the Kahoma Village Project - a mix of over 200 market and affordable housing units. We asked questions about traffic issues (both motor vehicle and pedestrian) affecting Front Street, Kenui Street and Honoapiilani Highway, and whether or not emergency services would have swift access to residences through the narrow, shared alleyways and driveways shown on his plan. We were told by his "traffic expert" that their studies showed that there was virtually no impact on traffic whatsoever. Seriously? No impact? How is this possible?
Mr. Carr told those in attendance that this plan was being presented to the community, because "no one else had ever come up with any other idea for this vacant property." This was not wholly factual.
Thomas, who has been a resident of Maui for 40 years, conceived a plan in 1988 - at the time he was building and launching the tallship Hawaiian Chieftain - to build a harbor on this very site, and had worked on refining the scope of his project just prior to Mr. Carr's unveiling.
Immediately following the Kahoma Village presentation, we resolved to pursue our initiative for Lahaina and present the community with a financially viable and environmentally sound proposal for the development of a unique harbor (see "Group unveils plans for new harbor near Mala Wharf," Lahaina News, Aug. 2, 2012). Our plan envisioned a number of attributes which we felt were distinctively important to Lahaina and Maui, and to the state in general. These elements comprised a Polynesian voyaging center, new West Maui Harbor and mixed-use village encompassing smaller commercial and residential units.
And now we will all have to live with a fast-tracked, unimaginative, "easy option" - the swift granting of a cramped, lackluster residential development on Front Street located in the only possible site for an additional harbor for West Maui. What surprises me the most, however, is the absence of any noticeable remonstration or questioning on the part of local residents. They should object to the fact that the developer of Kahoma Village wants the county, and therefore the taxpayers, to bear the infrastructure costs and to avoid paying even the cost of building permits. But most importantly, activists should be dubious about the fact that residential projects held in fee under the Weinberg Foundation often pay virtually no property tax to the County of Maui. I strongly suspect Maui taxpayers will be footing the bill in both infrastructure costs and ongoing services expenses for this latest development.
The Kahoma Village was promoted as a project under the auspices of a fast-track, "affordable" housing project. Everything is affordable if the purchaser has sufficient funds. I suspect the market element of this project will be constructed and sold first, with the affordable aspect coming years later. This was to be a project offering spacious parks and amenities. Now that we have drawn closer to reality, we find the green spaces have been reduced in size to a meager "pocket park" with no toilets. Not very inviting to the local community.
My question is, where were the warriors of the 'aina when it was time to defend a home for Maui's voyaging canoes, or to support the establishment of a Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Center, the very embodiment of Hawaiian culture? Where were the local voices when they had a chance to endorse a legacy of open water for Lahaina, instead of a cramped housing project? Perhaps the property owner, local residents and elected officials viewed the harbor concept as too far-reaching and challenging. But then I always recall Henry Ford's maxim, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right." It would seem the voices of the fainthearted have had the last word. Pity.
LANCE THOMAS, Los Angeles
Better uses for bypass funds
Regarding the letter "New roadway cost $13 million per mile?"... seriously - $13 million per mile on the Lahaina Bypass? Plus the Kahoma Bridge way over budget on cost?
Outrageous! For that, Maui could:
1) Offer 24/7 bus service to Kahului/Wailuku;
2) Build homes below $100,000 per unit;
3) Have hospitals in the West Side and in Kihei, Upcountry and Hana;
4) Have ALL vacant commercial properties converted into affordable businesses start-ups;
5) I leave it up to you, using your judgment and determination.
DR. GEORG WOODMAN, Taiwan/Maui
More than a million acres of open space land owned privately in Hawaii
One day I was leaving a County Council meeting on Maui, and I stepped into a crowded elevator. I pretended to ignore them while I listened intently.
"Can you believe it? We did it! We got the government to buy the land!"
"Thank goodness," another lady said. "I was afraid the view of the ocean would be blocked from my house."
"Well," the leader said, "I heard that a developer is planning on buying some land up north. We'd better hop to it again, ladies!" They all cheered.
But I wondered: why is the government always seen as the protector of the land? After all, much of the open spaces in Hawaii are privately owned. Yes, it's true that about two million acres of Hawaii are owned by the state and national government. But one million acres of open land in Hawaii are owned privately.
The entire island of Ni'ihau is privately owned by the Robinson family. Nicknamed "the forbidden island," Ni'ihau still looks almost the same as it did 200 years ago - proof that private individuals can preserve the land if they own the property.
Larry Ellison, the third-richest man in the world, owns 98 percent of the island of Lanai, yet the island remains largely a wide open space.
In fact, most of the privately owned land in Hawaii is open space, undeveloped land.
The Nature Conservancy, a privately funded charity, raised millions of dollars to buy over 200,000 acres of land in Hawaii for the purposes of preservation and open space. Free market conservation charities can only raise money if lots of people think it's a good idea. Other private charities like the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, Historic Hawaii Foundation and the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust work to raise money to purchase land for preservation.
In the meantime, government buys up land that people aren't willing to raise money to preserve. Yet, they often pay double what the land costs. When the Maui County Council voted to purchase the land at Launiupoko for $13 million, Councilman Mike White reminded everybody that on the free market, they could have gotten it for less than half the cost. The landowner jacked up the price as soon as they found out the government was buying it.
Many argue that in the free market, nobody would ever buy land and keep it open-spaced. Yet, there are over one million acres of privately owned open space land in Hawaii. Most of that land will continue to be preserved, because the individual landowners and charities are interested in keeping the land natural. Let's not forget that most of the land that the government owns is the rocky cliffs and volcanoes that would be difficult to develop anyway. But most of the land that private individuals own in Hawaii is prime land for development - yet it's been preserved for hundreds of years because of personal choice, charity and property rights.
Hawaii's top ten largest landowners are: 1,540,000 acres, State of Hawaii; 531,000, federal government; 363,000, Kamehameha Schools; 246,000, Parker Ranch; 113,000, Alexander & Baldwin; 97,000, Robinson Family; 89,000, Larry Ellison; 58,000, Molokai Ranch; 36,000, Grove Farm; and 29,233, Castle & Cooke.
JOE KENT, Lahaina