Rendering of the proposed Hotel Wailuku courtesy Supreme Bright LLC. The MRA currently holds the power to approve such variances to the building code with a majority vote and approval of the mayor, but community groups are now disputing the agency’s legality.

Community groups Maui Tomorrow and the Wailuku Good Government Coalition filed a lawsuit Monday against the Maui Redevelopment Agency (MRA), a county agency that claims to operate in accordance with state law pertaining to the Urban Renewal Law. The community groups, represented by attorneys Lance D. Collins and Bianca Isaki, claim that the MRA does not have the power to exercise zoning power, grant building variances, or create rules for itself “that purport to allow it to exercise powers of zoning and variances.” They are asking the courts to rule that the MRA and County of Maui show how the agency legally derives its authority, and that the MRA be ousted from exercising its current power. 

As an example of the powers recently exercised by the MRA – which consists of five unelected members and can pass policy with a simple majority vote and the mayor’s approval –  the agency discussed passing changes to the building code within the Wailuku Redevelopment Area, to include increases to building height limits and density. These changes are on hold while the agency plans a series of workshops to receive community feedback, with the goal of developing a “community vision document” by June 2020. The MRA also would be the agency to grant variances to the zoning code within the Wailuku Redevelopment Area. Such variances have been the expressed intention of Supreme Bright, LLC, the group behind the proposed Hotel Wailuku, a 156-room, six-story hotel planned for Wailuku Town at the corner of Main and Market Street.

The community groups filing the lawsuit contend that these actions are without legal basis. “The Maui County Charter has specific language requiring that proposed laws related to planning or land use go before the respective planning commissions for review and recommendations; proposed laws then go to the county council for two readings,” said Maui Tomorrow executive director Albert Perez in a statement. “On the contrary, the MRA provides no such review for proposed planning or land use laws, and its plans are subject to only limited review by the council; this violates the County Charter and the will of voters.”

“Most people agree that the historic character and charm of Wailuku need to be carefully preserved,” added John Baker, a Wailuku attorney and member of the Wailuku Good Government Coalition. “We are concerned that the changes the MRA is considering will destroy the heart and soul of Wailuku Town, undermine truly affordable housing, and allow the already overgrown visitor industry to expand into one of the last refuges for local residents on Maui.”

Attorney Lance Collins said in an email Monday that he anticipates the court to rule on this matter by April or May. County spokesperson Brian Perry declined comment, saying the county does not comment on pending litigation.

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