Parking plan pluses outweigh the minuses

Agency approves location, design; panel vote set for after February 12
It appeared clear by the end of Friday's Maui Redevelopment Agency meeting that the panel supports the location and design, the latter for the most part, of the planned municipal parking structure in Wailuku.

Agency panel members did not vote on the project but did approve the location and design, with some changes. The panel's vote will occur after the environmental assessment is complete in February 2012, said county planner Erin Wade.

Redevelopment agency member Mark Walker wrote a letter of approval. And three of five panel members focused on cost cutting and making the project a better fit for the neighborhood, even if it is really just a big box, as some call it.

It's a $15.7 million, 418-space, five-story structure with as much homey design elements as possible, its architects said.

"The common consensus is that we support the design," said Chairwoman Alexa Betts Basinger.

Her colleagues agreed when she said that "the pluses outweigh the minuses."

The Maui Redevelopment Agency is tasked with finding ways to reinvigorate the 68-acre core of old Wailuku, and the parking structure has been on the county's radar for three decades. A 2010 survey of 1,011 people found that a lack of parking is a major reason residents avoid Wailuku town.

The agency's master plan is coming to fruition with fixed-up streets and storefronts, and the parking problem's compounded with many county and state employees jockeying with consumers for spots in the 2.2-acre, 210-space municipal parking lot where the structure would go.

Now that the Maui Redevelopment Agency members are delving into the design themselves, they said they want a solid plan to help gain the support of taxpayers and lawmakers alike and get the construction money that's eluded previous attempts.

Wade said that for now planners are expecting to pay for the project through the county's capital improvement project bonding process. She said that in reality it could be done through some mix of capital improvement funding, tax districts, state funding and federal redevelopment grants. It likely will be up to the administration of Mayor Alan Arakawa and the County Council to figure out how to pay for the parking structure, Wade said. So far, about $1.2 million has been spent on planning and design.

A July 15 agency meeting will address parking needs and business concerns.

If project planners succeed, the structure would be built on about half of the municipal parking lot bordered by North Market, North Vineyard, West Main and West Church streets. It would be divided by a new Pili Street, which would be the structure's entrance and exit.

The other half would be set aside for about 70 parking spots or a farmers market or development, depending on what people want.

The good news for members of the public, said Jocelyn Perreira, executive director of the Wailuku Main Street Association, is that there will be plenty of other opportunities for people to weigh in with input.

The idea of building a parking structure has been 30 years in the works, but the design has become a divisive issue in Wailuku.

A number of critics called the parking structure horrendous, massive and "a concrete albatross" that is way too expensive.

The cheaper, less-intrusive way is to create a series of small parking lots in abandoned areas, some said.

The parking structure is open-aired for natural light and so a yell for help could be heard. The main color is brown and the features include lattice metalwork, skylights, cornices and glass elevators both for flair and safety. The plantation/art deco design is meant to resemble Wailuku landmarks.

None of the central design team members except Chris Hart, whose company does the landscaping, attended Friday's meeting, but engineer Brian Ide was on speaker phone for several minutes.

Perreira's organization testified Friday that Wailuku hasn't gotten any new parking since the 1960s. Still, Perreira was among those in favor of a scaled-down structure that's three or four levels high, she said.

"I think it's more bang for our buck to go for the five-story structure," Betts Basinger said.

Redevelopment agency member Bill Mitchell said he also thinks it must have bus service added.

Vice Chairwoman Katharine Popenuk said she wanted more trees and vines on trellises to "break up" the look of the high walls. Popenuk also said she thought that adding a roof to the top floor was unnecessary as well as the photovoltaic system, which is $500,000. She doubted the electrical cost savings would ever happen.

Hart, of Chris Hart & Partners, testified that "today, Maui's Main Street is Ka'ahumanu Shopping Center . . . Viable businesses need viable parking. I feel it's time for us as a community to bite the bullet."

Off-duty county planner Jim Buika testified that while Wailuku needs parking, it should not be in the last large piece of open space.

His idea involves an outdoor eatery row, farmers and fish markets, an amphitheater, art walk and fountain.

Instead, Buika advised the agency to build the parking structure next to the state and county buildings at the abandoned High Street Post Office. The county owns the asbestos-contaminated building and should knock it down, he said.

However, Popenuk said that she "likes this site, because it is at the center" of Wailuku. There are small parks there already for markets and stages, she said.

Betts Basinger said she also thought that the designers did "a good job," and liked the innovation for safety, rechargeable car plugs and bike racks.

She and Popenuk noted that the structure's design fits within all of the county's size restrictions.

But Betts Basinger said she would like to see a true art deco design and plantation-era colors.

Walker wrote that the architects have done their best with the box.

"As one designer said, 'It's hard to make a parking structure look like a cute little plantation house,' " Walker said.
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