Balancing Economic Stimulus and Community Plans

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Over the last few years, Maui county has been working to revise and update the Maui County general plan. The plan is meant to provide a framework for future development and growth on the island. The existing plan was created in 1990 and drafts of a new plan were issued earlier this year. The draft issued earlier this year included urban growth boundaries that would increase density and protect open space. The mayor and the planning department called for a moratorium on new development approvals until the new general plan was completed and approved.

The sentiment to delay new development approvals until the community plan is finished appears to be losing traction. As the economic slow down has idled construction crews on the island, the Maui county council is looking at new development as a means of economic stimulus. This was seen most clearly when the county council approved the rezoning necessary to allow a new luxury development in Makena. This case pitted concerns about environmental and cultural impact, and preservation of open space against the need for new jobs, affordable housing and the efforts of a developer with a good reputation in the community. The preservation of and creation of jobs appears to have been the biggest factor in the approval of the zoning changes.

It looks like a similar battle is about to unfold over the Ma’alaea Mauka development. This is a project that has been specifically excluded from the draft of the Maui County General Plan as it is outside of proposed growth corridors. However, the project is in the process of being sold to Jesse Spencer. Jesse has distinguished himself among Maui developers for his affordable housing efforts. Jesse is just completing his most recent development project at Waikapu Gardens. He would like to start a new project at Ma’alaea Mauka. He is proposing that Ma’alaea Mauka will be at least 60% affordable. The prospect of jobs is an added carrot being dangled in front of council. The completion of Waikapu Gardens idled 150 workers. Spencer indicates that approvals of Waikapu Gardens will put those idled construction crews back to work.

It appears that this may become a recurring theme as developers propose new construction with the added incentive of increased employment. It will be interesting to see how Maui County balances the need for job creation with its intent to provide structured and sustainable growth. We will continue to follow new development proposals on THE Maui Real Estate Blog.

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