Thursday, February 21, 2008

Maui Weekly

Scott Broadbent

KCA president determined to keep Kihei and South Maui a great place to live and visit.  Whether you have lived on Maui all your life, or you are still waiting for your container of furniture to arrive, chances are you would describe our home as “paradise.” Those of us who live in Kihei revere our beaches, bask in our nearly unlimited sunshine and marvel at the beauty of the sunset, no matter how many evenings we have seen it.

Yet we are also concerned with our town’s future. As we see more and more black privacy barriers going up around construction sites; and as we sit in traffic on South Kihei Road, watching the stoplight change two or three times before we get our chance to get through; and as we hear endless promises about a new high school, we wonder what Kihei will look like and how it will function in 10 or 20 years.

What are the biggest obstacles to assuring that Kihei is a vibrant, thriving community in the future? Jon Miller, 26, the newly elected president of the Kihei Community Association (KCA), outlines a number of issues that will have a significant impact: traffic and transportation, building and development, education and careful stewardship of our environment.

“How people move from one place to another has an enormous impact on any community,” he said. “It should be a pleasant experience. But when I drive on South Kihei Road, it’s clear there wasn’t enough vision, and that planning and building have been haphazard. Kihei may be losing its luster. Some people see it as a giant strip mall.”

But Miller insists the KCA can play a critical role in preserving what is best about Kihei. An advocate of pedestrian and bicycle-friendly corridors, Miller is critical of the county’s master traffic plan for Kihei.

“The current plan calls for six lanes of traffic on Pi‘ilani Highway, four lanes on South Kihei Road, and the addition of a four-lane north-south collector road with sound walls.” The result, he said, would be more traffic, more congestion and more frustrated motorists.

“Look at Los Angeles,” he said. “They add more and more lanes and they just fill up with cars.” The most important thing KCA can do, he said, is to secure funding to redevelop the traffic master plan.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re still fighting the same fights as three years ago,” he said. The KCA has held numerous meetings and requested funding to build roundabouts as a means of moving traffic more safely and efficiently. “Statistics show that traffic flows better and pedestrians are much safer,” he said. In addition, they slow traffic and can be landscaped to be aesthetically pleasing. The KCA has identified the intersection by Safeway at the Liloa-Pi‘ikea intersection as an ideal location.

When Miller first joined the KCA board, he knew development and building would be an important, potentially controversial issue. “At first I thought it would be us versus the developers,” he said. But he quickly realized that developers really had the best interests of Kihei at heart. “The system is not designed for innovation,” he said. “So the easy thing is for the developers to design buildings that will work within the system. While they are businessmen and women looking to make a profit, most want to do the right thing. But they face difficult zoning laws and restrictions at both the state and county levels.”

The Planning Review Committee of the KCA has established basic design guidelines for buildings and asks developers to consider a number of factors related to how the structure impacts the community. KCA offers a letter of acceptance to developers who consider green alternatives, measure the impact on traffic patterns, create a positive environment for bicyclists and pedestrians and incorporate landscaping and other aesthetic improvements.

KCA has long been in the forefront of the effort to build a high school in Kihei. Although KCA sought input from the community, which favored the site across Pi‘ilani Highway from Kamali‘i School, they will support the site at Kulanihakoi selected by the Hawai‘i Department of Education. Miller just wants to see construction begin.

“We don’t want to pick fights. We want to bring all of the parties together to do what’s best for everyone,” he said. While quality education is a global issue, Miller said it needs to be addressed locally.

“The Kihei Charter School is doing very well,” he said, noting that it is the only public school on Maui with a local school board. He is pleased two students from the Charter School, Tammy Makanalani Corden and Kuilani Elaban, have joined the KCA board to add “fresh perspective.”

Miller said the KCA is also concerned about our environment. Issues like runoff, trash, plastic bags and building encroachment are all threats, he said. He has high praise for KCA Board Members Bob Richardson and Mike Moran.

Despite the challenges, Miller is optimistic that Kihei and South Maui can continue to be a wonderful place to live and visit. “We are all partners,” he said. “We need to come together to be part of the solution. KCA wants to remind people, together we speak with a stronger voice.”