Commission Votes No on Apartment Project
Under mounting concerns over public safety in Manila Camp, the Molokai Planning Commission recommended a denial for requests for a zoning change and a community plan amendment that would potentially allow a 16-unit apartment complex to be built in the area.
The project, named Chopra Hale and proposed by Dilip Gunawardena of the LDE Group, LLC, outlined a two-story, multi-family apartment building that would cover 1.04 acres at 190 Makaena Place. The units would be available to those eligible under Maui County’s Section 8 program, which provides rental assistance for low-income residents.
LDE Group sought a zoning change from interim district to A-1 Apartment District, which would permit the construction of an apartment complex. The project would’ve also required amending the Molokai community plan to change the area from a single-family designation to multi-family, allowing a structure capable of supporting several families.
At the commission’s Jan. 14 meeting, planning commissioners and community members alike said they were more concerned with the area’s infrastructure than with the project itself.
“The commission was never against the project,” said Commissioner Zhantell Dudoit. “We simply want the county to address issues that have been predominant since 1974.”
Dudoit said these issues mostly stem from public safety concerns, including a lack of adequate street parking and the potential problems an increase in population would cause for emergency responders.
Fire Captain Henry Lindell, who lived in Manila Camp for four years, said that conditions are already crowded in an area with “only one access in and one access out.”
“I saw for the past four years the amount of people that’s on Makaena Place,” said Lindell. “… The children are always on the roads. It’s one of those places where you gotta drive slowly.”
Fire and police officials said that with an added apartment complex, responders may not be able to adequately address certain emergencies. Fire Captain Kekoa Puhi said that the fire department tested the capacity of fire hydrants in the area, and according to preliminary results, the hydrants could produce 1,500 gallons. Battling a fire in an apartment building of that size, said Puhi, would require 2,400 gallons.
Community police officer Lonnie Ka`ai said that flooding could also delay emergency response, an issue that Diane Adachi, who read remarks on behalf of Manila Camp residents, echoed.
“Our current road is in a special flood hazard area. Last month’s storm and flooding is one example as to the need for another exit,” said Adachi, who added that “the road condition is the number one priority” for the neighborhood.
Water supply was cited as an additional problem. The Department of Water Supply’s Jase Miyabuchi, who serves as the District Engineer for West Maui, Upcountry and Molokai, said that the Kualapu`u aquifer that provides Kaunakakai with water is limited to pumping half a million gallons a day, which is 29 percent of its sustainable yield. With the current limits, Miyabuchi said the department would not be able to support a new apartment complex.
“[Our director is] not willing to say that this project has a long-term reliable supply of water,” said Miyabuchi. “… The water’s there. It’s available. The amount of water is not the problem. The problem is our ability to pump per the pumping program.”
According to Clayton Yoshida, administrator for Maui County’s Current Planning Division, infrastructure improvement costs fall on the developer.
Molokai Fire Captain Greg Jenkins said that leaves the Molokai community with an additional issue to consider.
“As this community looks at developing, are we gonna pre-pay to have things done?” asked Jenkins. “Or are we gonna allow projects to come in, examine them independently, and then the burden of paying for those upgrades falls on the developer. There’s not enough tax base at this point for us to pre-design communities where people just walk in [and build].”
Project Consultant Luigi Manera, who represented Gunawardena, said at a November Planning Commission meeting that the longer the project is drawn out, the more they’ll be forced to evaluate its cost effectiveness.
“I try to do an affordable home but the more money you spend [on applying], it cannot be affordable anymore,” he said.
Manera previously presented a letter from the Department of Housing and Human Concerns stating that there is a need for affordable rental housing on the island, with 201 people on the Section 8 waitlist for Molokai as of 2013. However, Dudoit, who works with Habitat for Humanity, said there is available housing in Maunaloa and doesn’t know why the units aren’t being filled.
“The list doesn’t tell you that you have a lack of homes,” said Dudoit. “It tells you there’s a problem with houses that haven’t been processed.”
The final decision now rests with the Maui County Council, which can agree with the recommendation or overrule it, according to Molokai Planner Ben Sticka. If the Council overrules it, the project would be allowed to continue as planned.
Yoshida said as yet there remains “no definite timeline as to when the Council will schedule the item for review.”
In the meantime, Dudoit said that while affordable rental housing is a viable option, often renters come and go on Molokai. Dudoit said the community should focus on programs that encourage home ownership.
“What I love about Section 8 is that they have a program where you can transition from rental to home ownership,” said Dudoit. “Rental assistance homes are good, but they’re a Band-Aid. If a community is gonna be truly productive, you gotta have ownership. You gotta buy into this community. And you gotta wanna stay.”