Stacking the Odds
Planning Commission discusses County zoning changes.
By Melissa Kelsey
Two bills proposed by the Maui County Council suggest changing County zoning in ways that could make some existing Molokai homes and businesses non-compliant with the law, according to Maui County Planning Director Jeffrey Hunt.
Hunt said the Maui County Planning Department does not support the bills and has received nine letters advocating against them. Both bills aim to eliminate a legal occurrence called “stacking” in Maui County, with one bill targeting hotel districts and the other bill targeting industrial districts. Stacking means that additional buildings such as businesses and residences are allowed inside land areas zoned for specific purposes. For example, stacking allows a lunch café to be built within the same zone as an electricity plant.
Community member Larry Swenson spoke against passing the bills at the Molokai Planning Commission (MoPC) meeting last Wednesday.
“It is important to be able to have multiple things going on where you live so you do not have to get in your car and burn two or three gallons of gas,” said Swenson.
Hunt said from the County Council’s point of view, the problem is that businesses and residences on Maui are crowding hotel and industrial districts. As a result, there is no longer enough room in those districts to accommodate reasonable industry infrastructure and tourism.
Molokai resident Judy Caparida reiterated the importance of understanding how changes made on Maui will affect Molokai.
“The needs of our island are not the same as Maui,” she said in her testimony.
To solve the problem, the bills propose discontinuing stacking so that districts can be used for the purposes for which they were originally intended. Hunt said the glitch in the plan is that if the bills are passed, a large number of residences and businesses in Maui County, Molokai included, will immediately be in non-compliance with the law. That’s why the Planning Department does not recommend that the bills be passed; partly as a result of the difficulty the County would have enforcing the bills.
Molokai resident DeGray Vanderbilt said he is in favor of the bills because he does not believe the current ordinances are in keeping with the Molokai Community Plan. He said as it stands now, individuals could purchase land on Molokai’s west end that is currently hotel-zoned and use it for large single-family homes.
“We got a chance to do things right here on Molokai,” said Vanderbilt. “Or we can do nothing and end up with chaos and a broken system like they have on Maui.”
The Planning Department has requested that the MoPC offer a recommendation on the bills by July 9. Last Wednesday, the MoPC moved to defer making a recommendation until the June 10 MoPC meeting, at which time the MoPC will accept public testimony.
“I am sure this affects people in ways we have not thought of,” said Commissioner Mikiala Pescaia. “We have to first identify if there is a problem, and what the problem is.”
The decision to defer was made in part because some commissioners wanted more complete information on which to make the recommendation.
“The appropriate thing to do would be to direct staff to provide maps at the next meeting that show where the affected zoning will be and uses for the zoned areas on Molokai,” said Commissioner Lori Buchanan.
Upgrading the System
As a group of Molokai residents who volunteer their time to serve the planning needs of a diverse community, the MoPC already has a full plate. But there’s always room for improvement, and commissioners discussed ways to better inform the public and streamline planning processes and communication with the county. Commissioners hope to better disseminate meeting agendas, get accurate zoning maps from the Maui County Planning Department, and help the community better understand permitting application procedures.
Molokai Staff Planner Nancy McPherson described her need for up-to-date technology, including functional Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology.
Commissioner Lori Buchanan advocated for an additional staff planner to be hired for Molokai. For the last two years, Buchanan said she has requested $40,000 at the Maui Council budget hearings to be used by the Molokai Planning Department for this purpose.
MoPC Welcomes New Commissioner
The MoPC welcomed Nathaniel Bacon as its newest Commissioner. Bacon is a Manae resident who has lived on Molokai for 10 years. For the last three years, he has done wetlands preservation work for the east end community organization Malama Pono O Ka `Aina.
“I just felt that the east end was not being represented,” he said, when asked his reasons for joining the MoPC. “We want to protect and uphold the east end policy statement.”