Makena: Keeping our promises

Haleakala Times
December 05, 2006
by Lucienne de Naie

Over thirty-five years ago a bold, visionary plan was launched to secure Maui’s economic future. Begun in 1968, the federally funded Kihei Civic Plan set out to transform the dry, dusty, sparsely populated shoreline of South Maui. It envisioned a model community for residents and a world-class resort destination for visitors. Nearly one-third of South Maui’s 1,200 residents (1970 pop.) gave input on the Civic Plan.

In 1970, the Maui County Board of Supervisors (forerunners of the Maui County Council) held public hearings and adopted the completed Kihei Civic Plan. That single approval gave virtually the entire coast of South Maui urban "entitlements’, including 1,500 acres of land owned by A&B subsidiary, Wailea Resort and 1,000 acres recently purchased by Japanese corporate giant, Seibu.

The Quest for Water

Local and foreign investors lined up to cash in on the future land boom. But first, a reliable water supply was needed. This was set in motion in 1975, when the County partnered with Wailea Development Corporation and Seibu’s Makena Resort to fund a pipeline connecting the ground waters of future wells in the ‘Iao Aquifer to the thirsty future resorts of Ma’alaea, Kihei, Wailea and Makena. The project was funded by $4 million of state monies, plus a $7 million loan from Wailea and Seibu (paid back, in full, in 1989).

In August 1976, Life of the Land, Hawaii’s earliest environmental advocacy group, sued for a proper Environmental Impact Statement for the project. Their chief argument: $11 million should be spent to help improve water quality for existing residents, rather than send water to places where no one yet lived.

The argument reflected popular public sentiment, especially in the upcountry area where public water systems failed to meet the new federal Clean Water standards. Mayor Cravalho assured citizens that with increased tourism revenues, Maui’s water systems would be upgraded island-wide, resolving upcountry’s water problems.

Over the next three decades, former grazing and croplands along south Maui’s coast were bought and sold in successive waves of speculation, and transformed into housing tracts, shopping centers, resort hotels and condominiums.

In the process, the noble intent of the Kihei Civic Plan, which had made these new land values possible, practically overnight, were mostly forgotten.

South Maui:The Civic Plan Vision

So how much of South Maui followed the Kihei Civic Plan objectives?

Wailea and Kamaole were proposed for major resort centers. However, a "strict application of building height and density regulations " would prevent "shadowing of beach parks by tall hotel buildings." in both locales.

North Kihei was envisioned as "long beach parks and large residential areas, giving a feeling of openness." Ma’alaea was seen as local residences surrounding the Harbor.

Wailea was to be the lushly landscaped "City of Flowers" with wide-open ocean vistas and a tramway system to avoid traffic congestion.

Makena’s Historic Past

Makena’s beauty elicited the most heartfelt response from the Civic Plan’s authors, who recommended:

"…an exhaustive archaeological investigation precede any significant attempt materially to change the present physical makeup of land use in Makena. Only those particular land uses thoroughly compatible with the results of that investigation should be permitted or, certainly, promoted."

Even stronger language followed: "All of the physically significant aspects of the region’s role in Hawaiian history should be identified and preserved for the future, before they are obliterated by an unrestrained desire for immediate economic gain."

While the Civic Plan authors declared, "Makena’s parks and wilderness sites, along with its historical sites and structures will become its most valuable asset," they were unaware of the massive number (over 1,000) of cultural and historic sites hidden in Makena Resort’s rugged terrain.

The plan’s authors unrealistically recommended Makena zoning entitlements that would make their preservation goals hard to fulfill.

Their Civic Plan called for 2,000 hotel units, a golf course, 10-acre shopping area and 3,000 apartment units between Makena Landing and Big Beach. Modern day plans for Makena are proposing much lowered building densities. Still, scores of worthwhile cultural sites have already been destroyed during past golf course and hotel construction. Hundreds more cultural remains face the same fate if Makena Resort’s future development plans move forward, even at the proposed lowered densities.

Got Parks?

As for parks, the Civic Plan proposed preservation of mostly public lands. A park and school was planned at the "Makena town entrance" and the rugged lava fields of Cape Kinau and La Perouse Bay (Keone’o’io) were proposed as public parks along with around 30 acres of state land surrounding Pu’u Ola’i. Fortunately, citizens got involved.

Today’s Oneloa (Big) Beach at Makena State Park was given Civic Plan zoning for condominium units. Over a decade of citizen activism secured nearly 100 acres surrounding Puu Ola’i. Thousand enjoy this park today.

The popular public beach park at Maluaka, just South of the Maui Prince Hotel, was never included in the plan, but only exists because of citizen lawsuits.

The Civic Plan blithely recommended the closure of the Old Makena Road between Makena landing and Puu Ola’i, without realizing that a link to the area’s history would be lost. Makena citizens banded together, filing numerous court actions. As a result, a broad public walkway has been preserved.

Almost forty years have passed since the Kihei Civic Plan boldly declared that it was "designed to prevent at all costs the continuous lateral sprawl of hotels along the coastline."

It further predicted that Makena would: "retain its present character" and that the region would have "the strongest surviving historical flavor of any still inhabited place on Maui, outside of Lahaina."

A Time to Act

Many of the Kihei Civic Plan’s original land use decisions, made nearly 40 years ago, will be reviewed as part of the upcoming County General Plan Update.

The Civic Plan’s Makena section left us with a warning: "Continuous high-density lateral coastal sprawl, forming a barrier between the ocean and the land, must be discouraged. The potential sprawl is most critical between Wailea and Makena …."
We still have time to insist that the promises made to protect Makena, a land "famous with the chiefs from the distant past" be kept.