Too often we are expected to either be for development or against it. As a local, and as a homeowner, it would be easy for me to say, "I have my piece, and I prefer we build no more." Of course, we do not want to become another O'ahu, with sprawl lining our valleys and our lowlands, creeping high onto our mountains. But the far opposite leaves Maui as a place only for the wealthy or those who are already endowed. Our young adults, our kapuna, and those who are striving for a better life for themselves and their family are too often on long waiting lists for our affordable housing, or struggling to get into an affordable, clean, safe rental. Or they are living in substandard accommodations.
I come from many generations of builders and construction workers. Well planned and conscientious development will not degrade our quality of living, but should actually improve our roads, boost our economy in other ways besides just increasing tourism, and provide a solid base of equity for a new generation of home owners. The kind of development we do not want is the kind that ignores and tramples cultural or historical places or sacred sites, detracts from our natural resources, limits access to land or public spaces, sprawls, or increases traffic on our roads and in our public areas. The kind of development we do want is the kind that adds to our economy, increases our self sufficiency as an island, improves the lives of the members of the community, supports our local schools, and adds to the beauty of our islands. Here are some of my plans for taking our county in that direction:
1. Improve the permitting process so that current homeowners can remodel, add to their homes, or add ohanas to provide more rental inventory to house local families. The current system for permits is outrageously expensive, prohibiting those owning homes on the low-end of the spectrum from legally expanding their rental options. The county should encourage home improvements, especially when it can increase the housing inventory.
2. There is a lot of opportunity to change the zoning on much of our commercial land to create zones of mixed-use high-density residential and commercial. What this might look like is filling in a large commercial parking lot with apartments or condos, and allowing the commercial buildings to continue operating, while only losing access to their exorbitantly immense parking lots. As a lot of our commerce moves to online platforms, especially after this pandemic, we need to recognize that the need for huge shopping areas and street after street of big box stores and warehouses will not be sustainable. Thinking back over the last five years, we have seen many of our commercial areas abandoned as the multi-national stores more into their own, bigger buildings or leave the county altogether, at the same time watching the locally controlled businesses being priced out of their leases in these commercial areas. The county needs to work with the businesses and corporations who hold commercial land to help them see the benefit of repurposing developed land over developing more raw land.
3. We need to get our water system updated and provide water meters to those who have been on the waitlist for years (sometimes a decade or more). While water collection is a great way to make our homes more sustainable, it seems outrageous that developers can get mass water meters and our current middle- to low- income families are trying to survive on water catchment. It basically doubles the cost for a local family to build a home: first they pay for water catchment, and then they have to pay the thousands of dollars to get the water meter when they are finally up on the waitlist. Our arcane water systems are also a major issue when it comes to affordable housing: the cost to get around the current system is so high that it raises the cost of development so that it is no longer affordable to the average homebuyer.
4. Instead of requiring developers to include low-income housing in or in addition to their developments, which is de-incentivizing positive and sustainable development, our county should change zoning in potentially high-density areas so that affordable hosing is a positive investment for developers. The problem right now is that raw land that is open for development is prohibitively expensive for low-income housing. But, there is plenty of semi-developed land that is more affordable that could be rezoned for affordable housing.