Some Worry Unbridled Growth Is Turning Maui Into Oahu

L.C. Lenwai
L.C. Lenwai
Jeffrey Hunt
Jeffrey Hunt
Jon Miller
Jon Miller

MAUI (KHNL) -- The number of people living on the Valley Isle of Maui could nearly double in the next two decades. A lot of this growth is fueled by retiring baby boomers, and that's putting an enormous strain on just about everything and everyone.

Mainland visitors mingle in Old Lahaina Town, a popular Maui tourist spot. Most eventually go back home, but some have decided to plant roots here.

New condos and strip malls are popping up in Lahaina, adding to an already congested highway.

"It's too much," said L.C. Lenwai, a Pukalani, Maui, resident. "Not enough road. Too much cars. Not enough roads. Not enough space."

Since 1980, about 3,000 new residents have moved to Maui each year.

"So we'll go from a population of approximately 130,000 now to almost 200,000 in the year 2030," said Jeffrey Hunt, director of the Maui planning department.

Retirees make up a big chunk of that population.

"It's the baby boomers getting to the end, so to speak," said Hunt. "And I think part of it is, coming from the 'If you built it, they will come' result."

That philosophy has driven Maui's construction industry. Some locals say the housing market is beyond their reach.

"It's not for the local people," said Lenwai. "Look at us. We get full time jobs just paying rent. We got people coming from other places, buying these million dollar homes, making it more expensive for us to live on this island."

Maui county officials said they're working to fix that problem.

"The county recently adopted a workforce housing policy where any project has to have 40 to 50 percent, of the units be affordable," said Hunt.

This new project in Wailea doesn't follow that policy. The cheapest condo here goes for $1.4 million.

More new homes, adding to an already congested island. Some on Maui think government leaders dropped the ball.

"There's congestion, so we're going to build bigger shopping centers, and more parking lots. And that's going to solve our problem with congestion," said Jon Miller, vice president of the Kihei Community Association. "And those are never really the answers."

Miller said Maui officials need to rethink the island's growth policy.

"We need to be focusing on town squares, pedestrian corridors, bicycle paths, parks that integrate with nature, with the ocean," he said.

Many agree something must be done to curb the continued growth on the Valley Isle.

"The ones coming in, they always got some place else to go because that's where they came from," said Lenwai. "It would be better for us if the mayor would look towards our future, not their future."

A future of unprecedented congestion unless Maui veers off into a new path.

Maui county officials hope to implement smart growth policies, which should result in more compact development.