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Council panel passes Lipoa Point resolution

POSTED: November 19, 2008
WAILUKU - Maui Land & Pineapple Co. has set a firm Dec. 31 deadline for Maui County to make a formal commitment to a compromise plan to conserve thousands of acres of shoreline, watersheds and the beloved Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay.

The council's Policy Committee met Tuesday to act on a resolution by Council Member Jo Anne Johnson urging Mayor Charmaine Tavares' administration to enter into negotiations with ML&P.

"I just say we move on it as expeditiously as possible," Johnson said.

The committee unanimously passed the resolution.

Tavares - in a rare appearance before a council committee - said she's been negotiating since January with the company as well with as the grass-roots Save Honolua Coalition and Honolua Advisory Council on a deal.

ML&P officials said they need assurances from the County Council that it will support the company's quid pro quo requests for land-use entitlements in order to satisfy its board of directors.

The beleaguered company is offering to dedicate the coastal lands at Honolua and Lipoa to preservation but asks the county to ease restrictions on its Kapalua Mauka project district, including to allow 630 short-term rentals.

Tavares assured the committee members, activists, company and public that she is determined to reach an accord on the matter. However, she said even if her staff worked every day on this for the next six weeks, it still wouldn't be enough time to get all the necessary assessments, legislation and other requests in place by Dec. 31.

She also expressed concern that ML&P sounds more like its offering the county an ultimatum with its offer rather than leaving room for negotiation.

"As represented during the first meeting with the two community groups earlier this year, the offer was open until the end of the year with the requirement that material points of the compromise be confirmed by resolution of the Maui County Council," wrote ML&P President and CEO David Cole in a letter dated Tuesday.

"Cognizant of this deadline, we supported a resolution a few weeks ago (presented by Council Member Michael Victorino) in an attempt to expedite a decision. We remain ready to negotiate and conclude an agreement with the county, but we reiterate that our offer expires on Dec. 31."

The committee had rejected Victorino's resolution, which is essentially what the company is asking council members to reconsider.

ML&P spokeswoman Teri Freitas-Gorman told committee members that there is no flexibility with the deadline. But she also said she certainly doesn't anticipate the council to change the law in time for the new year.

A resolution in support of ML&P's wishes would put the board at ease, she said.

Tavares said the county needs clarification from ML&P exactly what it needs to have in hand to be satisfied.

Both the Save Honolua Coalition and Honolua Advisory Council support ML&P's "Compromise for Conservation" plan.

"Overall, it went well for me," Save Honolua Coalition President Kahu David Kapaku said of his testimony. "But I think what worries me is that we've got only six weeks; and at this point, the landowner has made it clear that on Dec. 31 they're done. Whatever that means."

Freitas-Gorman said the company would not necessarily revert back to its original proposal to build an 18-hole golf course and luxury homes on Lipoa Point.

That plan drew a public uproar, and more than 16,000 people signed a petition against it.

"The company would re-evaluate its options," Freitas-Gorman said on Tuesday.

As with corporations across the country, ML&P is facing severe economic stress from the overall weak economy as well as losses within its operations. The pineapple and resort divisions have recorded continuing losses, offset only by real estate sales.

When the company reported on Nov. 7 an $8.7 million loss in the third quarter, it also announced that Cole would step down Jan. 1 as chief executive officer and president.

Chief Operating Officer Robert Webber will take over the top positions.

Major components of ML&P's proposal include:

* Allow 630 residential units in Kapalua Mauka to be used as short-term vacation rentals.

* Grant zoning for a 60-room "boutique" hotel, comparable to the Hotel Hana-Maui, in the Kapalua Mauka project district.

* Grant 1,200 county park credits currently valued at $32.46 million or 14.4 acres of land.

In turn, the company said it would:

* Place almost 8 miles of coastline, from Honolua Bay to Nakalele Point in public trusts or in protected state conservation districts

* Create an independently controlled Lipoa Land Trust to protect and manage 255 acres around Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay.

* Establish a public and privately funded $6 million to $8 million endowment for the Lipoa trust

* Designate 3,000 acres as conservation easement to add to ML&P's current partnership with the state for the Puu Kukui watershed preserve

* Petition to designate 212 acres of fields mauka of Lipoa Point as "important agricultural land," to be protected for agricultural use under state law.

Council Member Michelle Anderson wanted to make sure that the county is getting fair value for the land-use rights it will grant. She wants the administration to appraise the land it would receive and figure out how much the transient vacation rental allowances and other concessions are worth, too.

She said her staff did come up with the preliminary estimated value of $27.9 million for just the land the county would receive. Conversely, she noted that the county would lose $32.46 million in park credits.

"Are we getting good value?" Anderson asked. "I'd just as soon we condemn the land and get a bond or something if they are not willing to give us a fair price."

Council Chairman Riki Hokama called on ML&P to be realistic about what the council can accomplish in a short period of time, considering all the work that still needs to be done.

"I hope they will realize we are making a very good-faith effort," Hokama said.

Tavares said the compromise plan for Honolua is a important issue providing for a special place. Members of the coalitions worked extremely hard to reach the compromise, she said, and then have been explaining it to the public with a series of meetings.

"I think the plan will work," Tavares said. "And if goes through, it will become the largest preserve in the state of Hawaii. I am here and poised and ready to follow up and follow through."

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