“Yes, We Can”

Veterans’ Center inches closer to becoming a reality.

By Catherine Cluett

Molokai is a place of action, where people see dreams come true. Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans, an organization of 300 members representing all military branches and wars, has been dreaming big for over a year – they bought land and planned a center for veterans near the wharf. But they have yet to see their plans move past paper.

Over 40 veterans showed up to represent the group at the Molokai Planning Commission (MoPC) meeting last week. Wearing yellow shirts, veterans and supporters came determined to see their dream move forward after many delays. After reading a long list of the organization’s men and women who have died since Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans was started five years ago, Commander Larry Helm begged members of the Planning Commission to “help us get this job done before any more vets pass on”.

Helm has collected over 1000 signatures from Molokai residents in favor of the project.

“We gave our time, bravery, and even our comrades – and they’re asking us to wait,” said veteran Melvin Peralls. “Shame on you.”

The Building

The Veterans Center will be both a gathering space and a place where visiting counselors can meet with their Molokai veteran clients. A plan presented by veteran and architect Art Parr includes a meeting room, kitchen, offices, covered lanai and parking area. Labor for the building will primarily rely on volunteers.

“Currently our Molokai veterans meet in a 15 square foot, old, rundown, wooden building, which holds only six vets comfortably,” said Molokai veteran Daniel Iaea Sr. in a letter read by Bo Mahoe.

The Process

How can we move this project forward the fastest? That was the goal set forth by MoPC Chair Steve Chaikin.

As commissioners discussed the options with Molokai Planner Nancy McPherson and Clayton Yoshida of the Maui County Planning Division, a few options emerged.

A change in zoning classification is one option. Currently the land is zoned as “interim,” and McPherson recommended changing it to “light industrial.” She said consistency needs to be maintained between the project proposal and the County zoning.

A zoning change would require a Maui County Council member to introduce a resolution before the Council. Yoshida said it would take the standard 120 days to get the bill back to the Molokai Planning Commission for comment then before the County Council once again for approval with the commissioners’ recommendations. But, he added, it would have to go to the Council before March 15, because after that their priority will be the annual budget.

Another option for expediting the process is obtaining a zoning variance, a process that needs to be approved by the Board of Variances and Appeals. A variance, however, isn’t as permanent as a zoning change, according to Yoshida, and both require Council approval. A variance is a temporary solution because it is granted on condition of a zone change down the road.

Commissioner Teri Waros threw out a radical idea. What if the veterans altered their plan to include a museum? A museum is a permitted use according to current zoning of the land. “Maybe they could make this a place of knowledge,” she said. “I know Molokai veterans have a wealth of history to share.”

Many veterans nodded their heads. Whether or not the name or purpose is changed all-together, the group seemed to agree a museum would be, at the least, a good addition to the building’s existing purpose.

The Wait

Veterans and their supporters are frustrated and outraged by the lengthy bureaucratic process to see their plans move forward.

“Why do we have to take it to strangers on Maui to decide what we can and cannot do?” asked Reynolds Ayau. The Molokai Planning Commission needs to have this control, he added.

Commissioner Lori Buchanan had an answer– “be our own county.” But, she said, “In the meantime, we are the safety net for Molokai” to ensure that even though the Planning Commission may not have the control to make things happen, at least they can stop things from happening that aren’t in keeping with Molokai’s vision.

“It’s up to the veterans to decide what track they want to take it at this point,” Commission vice-chair Miki`ala Pescaia reminded the group after they had heard the options and mana`o.

Commissioner Bill Feeter made a motion to write a petition asking Maui County to move forward as quickly as possible on the veterans project. The motion passed unanimously.

There are three positions opening on the Molokai Planning Commission as of March, 2009. While the application process has closed officially, those interested in a position are still encouraged to apply.

The next Molokai Planning Commission meeting will be held on January 28 at 12:30 p.m. at the DHHL conference room at Kulana `Oiwi ( a change from the usual MPC location).

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