A Maui County Council committee has passed a resolution authorizing the use of eminent domain to acquire a monster-sized house in Napili.
The nine-member body voted 8-0 on Tuesday to adopt the resolution. Council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez who holds the Molokai seat was excused before voting.
Tuesday’s vote by the government relations, ethics and transparency committee moves the resolution to the full council for consideration at its July 15 meeting. If a majority passes it, Mayor Michael Victorino and his administration will decide whether to go forward with a title report and appraisal of the property.
Once the fair market value is known, the administration would return to the committee and determine whether members want to go forward with a budget amendment and eminent domain proceedings.
If the county and the owner agree to a price, then “we don’t have to fight that matter in court,” said Keola Whittaker, deputy corporation counsel in response to a question from council member Yuki Lei Sugimura.
If not, the price would be determined by a judge.
The county would then condemn the property and purchase it, transforming it into some sort of public-use building or razing it. It could also be remodeled so the 45-foot structure doesn’t exceed the area’s 30-foot height limit.
The gargantuan house, located at 5385 Lower Honoapiilani Road, was built by developer Greg Brown. Because of its oversized square footage and towering height, the house has stirred deep controversy, prompting the formation of a community association and calls for an investigation by a special counsel to undercover how such a massive building could ever be legally constructed.
The resolution passed Tuesday was introduced by council member Tamara Paltin who represents West Maui and can see the Brown house from her own residence. She stated that eminent domain is a possible course of action to help resolve the controversy but that the council cannot compel the mayor’s office to do anything.
“Ultimately everything is in the hands of the administration,” said Paltin. “It’s one option.”
Victorino was noncommittal on Tuesday.
“While I can understand the committee’s decision, I think it is premature because the full financial impact of initiating such proceedings needs to be weighed against other priorities, such as affordable housing,” Victorino said in an email.
A lawyer for the developer said his client might be interested in working something out with county officials.
“Mr. Brown is open to working with the county on reaching a reasonable resolution,” said attorney Jeff Ueoka.
Paltin noted that the climate action, resilience, and environment committee, chaired by council member Kelly King, will consider a separate resolution calling for an investigation of the planning and public works departments for having granted Brown permission to build the structure.
“We’re in a situation where our options are limited. Even if we do an investigation and we find that the FBI needs to be involved, it’s just that finding. Someone else needs to act,” Paltin said.
The CARE committee is expected take up the matter at its July 13 meeting.
King has said an investigation is needed for a variety of reasons, including community uproar over the Brown house and a recent audit that turned up numerous problems at the planning department and a lack of confidence by employees in their leadership.
She was also motivated by testimony from West Maui resident Kanamu Balinbin, who said he has personal knowledge of planning department officials accepting bribes in exchange for making problems go away for developers.
Balinbin has shared his allegations before the government relations, ethics and transparency committee several times over the past two years.
Paltin said Tuesday that if there’s evidence of corruption, she would like to see it. But so far no one has brought anything before the council that is more than accusations or innuendo, she said.
Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.
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