Rob Parsons


A&B's plans for expanding Kahului's boundaries, and more.

By Rob Parsons
Published in Maui Time Weekly
July 12, 2007

We're finally going to get the bill for the Industrial Age. If the projections are right, it's going to be a big one: the ecological collapse of the planet.

-Jeremy Rifkin

On Thursday, July 5, the top brass of Hawai'i's largest corporation showed up at the Maui County Council Land Use Committee hearing on whether to reclassify 179 acres of agricultural lands on the outskirts of Kahului. The request for light industrial zoning for Maui Business Park Phase II could double the acreage already congesting the Dairy Road gauntlet of retail-commercial big box stores, traffic lights, fast food outlets and parking lots.

Alexander & Baldwin owns 69,000 acres of Maui. Thirty-seven thousand of those acres, stretching through Maui's Central Valley and up across the lower slopes of Haleakala, are growing cane for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar, an A&B subsidiary. Another 16,000 acres are conservation lands, including watershed areas with water catchment systems managed by A&B subsidiary East Maui Irrigation.

But just 459 acres carry the "fully entitled urban" classification, according to the A&B Properties website. Of course, 1,571 Maui acres are "designated urban," while another 5,220 have "urban potential."

A&B has sought to convert agricultural lands outside Kahului since the revision of the Wailuku-Kahului Community Plan, begun in 1993 and completed in 2002. The focus is on two parcels on Hana Highway—one behind K-Mart/Costco and the other behind Lowe's and Wal-Mart. To date, A&B has acquired necessary permits and land use approvals from the State Land Use Commission (LUC) and Maui Planning Commission.

Twice, an earlier County Council voted against the land change in the Wailuku-Kahului plan revision, though it passed the third time. In 2000, then-Maui County Councilman J. Kalani English led a charge to use smart growth and "modern land-use thinking" to define Kahului's urban boundaries. "If we don't, what we're promoting is urban sprawl," he said at the time.

A&B has a different view, based on their market study that says Central Maui will need more than 270 additional acres of light industrial lands. And they claim that proximity to the airport and harbor will make their sites ideal.

But their traffic study makes clear that clustering more light industrial and retail usage in this already congested area would give at least four intersections a Level of Service rating of "F." That means two more traffic lights would be necessary on Hana Highway, one for the planned Airport Reliever Road and another for the extension of Ho'okele St. The study also recommends widening Hana Highway to six lanes, from Ka'ahumanu Ave. all the way to Haleakala Highway.

Then there's the matter of the Airport Reliever Road. The state actually acquired the land years ago, including sufficient area for a "raised grade" intersection behind K-mart. But many in the community spoke out that they viewed this "clover leaf" as an invasive species, and clamored for a stoplight instead.

The new airport road would go in behind existing big box stores, and would reconnect to Dairy Rd. just before Pu'unene Ave., which sounds like a highway engineer's bad dream. Moreover, A&B's proposal would hem in the new road with more industrial and retail businesses, essentially replicating Dairy Rd.'s ugliness. We'd lose the golden opportunity to recreate an entry corridor to our island befitting of its natural beauty.

A&B would build the Ho'okele St. extension when they develop the property as part of their "traffic mitigation" for the project. They expect it to reduce Dairy Rd. traffic by as much as 30 percent. Yet by placing more retail and industrial businesses at the town's outskirts, residents from all over the island would still converge on this bottleneck, even as Kahului's urban core faces more density from the proposed A&B Kahului Town Center and Aina O Kane projects.

A&B's planning documents and market study brought out another interesting tidbit—that approving this project could create as many as 7,800 full time jobs. Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson questioned that figure, asking where the workers would come from given that Maui has almost full employment.

Two years ago, the LUC asked how much land would be needed for affordable housing to accommodate a project of this size. Noting a lack of county policy at that time, they nevertheless recommended requiring at least 10 acres, though one commissioner had suggested 100 acres, for affordable housing.

When the County of Maui adopted the Residential Workforce Housing Policy last fall, it required that 40 to 50 percent of residential developments sell in the "affordable" price range. But it included no formula for large non-residential projects. So councilmembers asked at last week's meeting that county lawyers determine what, if any, obligation A&B has to provide additional acreage elsewhere for worker housing.

It appears that A&B is poised to offer a small piece of land for that purpose: 13 acres on a sandy parcel adjacent to Maui Lani. This appears to be a strategic move towards another large request for urbanization.

Among A&B's inventory of lands with "urban potential" are 826 acres in Waikapu, adjacent to Waiko Road and the Kuihelani Highway. A&B Properties held a series of community meetings last summer to seek input on this area, which they dubbed their Waiale project.

"We are in the process of arriving at a vision for what uses and activities may be appropriate for this area, which comprises what may be one of the last residential expansions of Kahului," Grant Chun, vice president of A&B Properties Maui, said at the time.

Who knew that land stretching halfway to Ma'alaea and bordering Waikapu could still be considered part of Kahului?

At least one professional planner urged caution. "I think we should look at whether it's appropriate for development in the general plan and [in accordance with] urban growth boundaries rather than get people's hopes up about whether there's housing, a college campus or a fairground," then-planning director Mike Foley said.

Alexander & Baldwin can afford to wait out the long process of land entitlements and permits since most of their agricultural lands are taxed at a very low rate, sometimes less than a dollar per acre. A&B also has diversified holdings, from Matson shipping lines to more than five million square feet of retail and office space on Oahu and in Texas, Utah, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and California.

All these investment properties apparently are paying off very well. In April 2006 the Honolulu Advertiser reported that A&B's Chief Executive Officer Allan Doane is the state's highest paid CEO, having made $4.9 million that year.

Of course, the company prefers the image of being a community-minded neighbor, still pulling on heartstrings that date back generations to Dream City. That's how it was possible for The Maui News to summarize last week's meeting as an opportunity to build five soccer fields in the project's drainage sump area. The lead to the story dealt not with traffic, affordable housing or the proximity to the Pu'unene mill water stench, but with the "Field of Dreams."

Councilmember Danny Mateo wasn't impressed by the diversionary tactic. As part of a contingent that went on a site visit earlier that day, he observed how windy the area can get and said soccer balls may just blow away. The response? Since the fields would be down in a drainage basin, the winds may just "blow over the top."

Years ago, I floated an alternative idea. Rather than build more corporate franchises and outlets on these prime ag lands, plant plumerias, orchids, pikakes, pakalana, pua kenikeni, crown flowers and gingers. Then have MCC students, seniors, youth-at-risk and community groups tend the fields.

And then bring the new airport road through these blooming fields. Be sure that everyone who arrives at our airport receives a fresh flower lei. If you live here and are returning home, you still get a lei.

Word of mouth would create a worldwide appeal that would draw visitors here more effectively than millions spent by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Maui Visitors Bureau. An authentic cultural retail area with lei stands and homegrown foods could provide a modest return on A&B's investment. But we would preserve our unique cultural heritage while showcasing our distinctive sense of place.

Impossible? Maybe you just need to think outside the big box.