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Maui council seeks to streamline Lahaina rebuilding effort while addressing residents’ concerns

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – It will take many months of clean-up before Lahaina is ready for rebuilding, but the Maui County Council has already begun the rule-making process that members say will be key to bringing the town back to life — and rebuilding what was lost.

It’s a challenge because Lahaina was both a close-knit residential community and an historic tourist mecca. Experts have said deciding what the new Lahaina should look like may be beyond the capability of the usual institutions, especially with a high level of public distrust.

The Maui council is trying to move quickly while hearing input from the public.

Mary Ann Sabino lost her home in the Lahaina fire, but pledged to return.

“I will rebuild on my land in Lahaina and I will raise my children in Lahaina guaranteed,” Sabino said, at a council meeting on Wednesday.

Her views were shared by many at the hearing along with a sense of urgency to get back to rebuilding — with ideas like high speed permitting and pre-approved plans for houses.

“These are the real solutions to our problems here and they are pretty quick” Sabino said.

Mary Beth Chinn, a West Maui resident, said streamlining processing is key.

“I am not advocating taking shortcuts or making construction shoddy or less then,” she said.

They’re also trying to speed up projects in the pipeline — like Pulelehua near Kapalua airport — whose developer is seeking $40 million in county infrastructure money to propel a project of potentially more than 1,000 affordable houses and rentals and a site for a new school.

But how Lahaina’s historic business will rise from the ashes is a harder and more emotional question.

“I think that actual homeowners land should be cleared first. Front Street can wait. Businesses can wait,” said Katie Austin, a Lahaina resident.

Fears of uncontrolled development were increased by the governor’s emergency housing initiative led by resigning Chief Housing Officer Nani Medeiros. She was scheduled to reappear Wednesday, but no one from the governor’s administration showed up — prompting a question.

“With all these layers of emergency proclamations, does anyone know, who’s in charge?” said Tamara Paltin, West Maui Council Member.

Council members also talked about solving the leadership issue by taking matters in their own hands — working with the mayor to come up with an emergency proclamation or legislation customized to Lahaina’s rebuilding challenge.


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