The Maui News: “A&B reports progress in ag and real estate”

A&B reports progress in ag and real estate

CEO: Ag diversification is difficult; may not go according to timeline

Work continues recently on the Alexander & Baldwin joint venture Keala o Wailea condominium development. The project near the entrance to Wailea off Piilani Highway is scheduled to have 70 luxury two- and three-bedroom condos. During a conference call with investors last week, A&B officials reported that 19 units have closed for sale so far this year with another 48 units in binding contracts and two in nonbinding contracts. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

While Alexander & Baldwin continues work to diversify its Maui agricultural lands, redeploying 4,500 acres of former sugar cane lands last year, the company sees progress as slow, difficult and unlikely to turn a profit, A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Benjamin told investors in a telephone conference call last week. Continue reading “The Maui News: “A&B reports progress in ag and real estate””

The Maui News: “Waikapu project gets approval of Land Use panel”

Waikapu project gets approval of Land Use panel

Zoning change for Waikapu Country Town development

The nearly 500-acre Waikapu Country Town project has received unanimous approval from the state Land Use Commission for critical changes. A state district boundary amendment allows a change from agricultural to rural for 150 acres and from agricultural to urban for 335 acres for development north and south of the Maui Tropical Plantation.

The commission’s action came Thursday during a videoconference call.

In early December, the commission met for two days at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to hear public comments and testimony from project consultants. Nearly all the comments were favorable to the project that several said revised its development plans in response to community and environmental concerns. Continue reading “The Maui News: “Waikapu project gets approval of Land Use panel””

The Maui News: “California company buys 300-plus acres of former sugar lands in Paia”

California company buys 300-plus acres of former sugar lands in Paia

Development options left open, but no plans to ‘flip it’

A red outline on a Google Maps image of Paia shows the boundary of the 339-acre parcel of former sugar cane land purchased by EC Paia LLC from Alexander & Baldwin. • Google Maps image

More than 300 acres of former sugar cane land at the edge of Paia town has recently been bought for almost $10 million by a private company based in Northern California.

According to Maui County property tax records, the $9.9 million sale of 339 acres of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. land was made on Dec. 20 to EC Paia LLC. It lists its member/manager in Hawaii business records as Eagle Canyon Capital. Its head is Sam Hirbod, who said he has a home in Wailea and has been coming to Maui for 20 years.

On Tuesday, Hirbod told The Maui News that his family investment and development company has no firm plans for the Paia land, which is mostly set aside as agriculture and a portion in open space.

The owner could seek a change of zoning for other uses, including commercial, said Planning Department Director Will Spence.

The land is adjacent to and mauka of Hana Highway and mauka of the Paia basketball courts. Baldwin Avenue borders the property to the northeast, and it includes the Paia minibypass.

“We have just started the process of just studying the area,” Hirbod said via cellphone from Texas while on a business trip.

His company has developed multifamily housing, commercial projects and community centers on the Mainland, he said, adding that it did not buy the property to “flip it” — that is, making some improvements and then selling it quickly for a profit.

“We are very excited about the opportunity. We looked at some of economic benefits. We understand that a portion of that property was allotted by the county to account for the growth within Paia,” Hirbod said.

Spence said Tuesday that he has to do more research to determine specific allowable uses for the property.

Hirbod explained that he got involved in the land sale “fairly late,” and that the transaction had been between A&B and Paia businessman Michael Baskin, who owns the Paia Inn. Hirbod said his company bought out Baskin’s portion.

Hirbod’s company was known as Pacific Convenience & Fuels of San Ramon, Calif.  Now the business is focused on investments and developments, Hirbod said.

The former company acquired a ConocoPhillips convenience store/gas station operation in the late 2000s, according to reports.

Now, the company will start setting up meetings with the county, the mayor and Maui County Council members as well as those with an interest in the area, Hirbod said. Community meetings will be held after the company gets a sense of its plans for the land.

“I’m a reasonable person who will always listen to good reasonable ideas. If there are reasonable ideas out there I want to hear them,” Hirbod said.

“Our mindset is long-term thinking. Our mindset is respecting (the) culture. Our mindset is adding value to the island, to the city of Paia, to the residents and to the county, as well as ourselves. It’s not that we want to do something as a cost to, a loss of, some other party,” he said.

“I love Maui. I had  opportunities (to do business) on other islands,” said Hirbod, who added that this is his first commercial acquisition in Hawaii.

“When I’m there, I’m home,” said the 46-year-old, who lives in Wailea when on the Valley Isle but also has owned other Maui properties.

Alexander & Baldwin spokesman Darren Pai said via email on Tuesday: “This sale was unique in that we received an unsolicited offer to purchase the property, and we determined that due to its size and location, a sale would not negatively impact our efforts to pursue our diversified agricultural plan.”

A&B is the parent company of HC&S, which closed its more than 100-year-old Central Maui sugar plantation last year. The company aims to transform much of its 36,000 acres of former sugar lands into diversified agriculture.

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said the Paia sale “kind of caught us by surprise.”

Antone said it was always Mayor Alan Arakawa’s intent to approach HC&S and A&B to keep some of the property open as green space.

He explained that with Baldwin Beach Park across the street and the basketball courts at Lower Paia Park, the stretch would become a north shore regional park. This “Kalama Park” of the north shore would include lands along the coastline that A&B donated to the county when it bought 4 acres for $7 million for the county service center at A&B’s Maui Business Park II in Kahului.

Green space mauka of Hana Highway is envisioned for open space in the area, he said.

“So it will be green across of green,” Antone said.

The open space would not be an entire parcel, but perhaps a football-field-length sized area across from the entrance of Baldwin Beach to the minibypass. The green space could be half as wide of a football field stretching mauka.

“We felt it was the right thing to do for the north shore,” Antone said.

But he added that county officials would work with the new landowners on any possibilities.

Pai said A&B was not aware at the time of the sale of any specific requests from Arakawa.

“But we did note (to the buyer) that the parcel contained the ‘mini Paia Bypass road,’ and took steps to ensure in the sales contract that the county retained its rights to the bypass road,” Pai said.

Hirbod said he “did hear wind” of the county’s wishes for the land, but he said he had not spoken with the county about it.

“We are more than open to collaboration and doing what is right for that property,” he said. He said he’s “always open to listening” to county officials’ concerns or ideas.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at

The Maui News: “Council OKs land use changes for A&B housing project”

Council OKs land use changes for A&B housing project

Panel also adopts resolution to end parking concession for Moku‘ula group

Land use entitlements for a portion of Alexander & Baldwin’s Waikapu residential community received final approval Friday by the Maui County Council.

The council approved on second and final reading measures to amend the Wailuku-Kahului Community plan from agricultural district to Waiale Project District South, along with zoning changes from agricultural district to Waiale Project District South (conditional zoning) and to establish permissible land uses, standards of development and allocation of land for the project.

The bills affect nearly 123 acres at the corner of Kuihelani Highway and East Waiko Road. The project is the first phase of A&B’s 545-acre Waiale master-planned community. The north phase of the project will be developed later.

On the south portion of the project, plans call for construction of up to 950 single-family and multifamily homes, with parks, open space and commercial areas. Construction costs are estimated to be more than $219 million.

The project’s next step is to work with the county Department of Planning on the subdivision’s neighborhood design, A&B Properties Vice President Grant Chun  said. The layout and design portions will need to go before the Maui Planning Commission for review and approval, he said.

He added that in the next two to three years, A&B hopes to put up some homes in the first phase and to submit paperwork for permits needed for the north portion of the project.

In May 2012, the state Land Use Commission voted to reclassify more than 500 acres in Waikapu for the Waiale community. The overall project called for building 2,250 homes, commercial areas, a middle school, public facilities and parks in an area bisected by East Waiko Road with Kuihelani Highway to the east and Honoapiilani Highway to the west.

In other action, council members adopted a resolution to end a parking lot concession on county property in Lahaina by the Friends of Moku’ula. The nonprofit was formed to restore and preserve the historic Moku’ula island and Mokuhinia pond, which was a Hawaiian royal residence.

A committee report questioned the group’s financial management and its responsiveness to community and council inquiries about the concession.

The report added that the group’s executive director reported Nov. 29 that the organization has had trouble documenting the use of concession funds since 2003.

Executive Director Blossom Feiteira told the committee that an internal audit showed that the group used parking lot concession money for administration and operations.

“She acknowledged the organization did not adequately spend the money the way they were supposed to for the first 10 years,’ “ the report said.

Documents provided to the committee suggest that the organization directed parking proceeds to its for-profit Ka Lua O Kiha and that the two entities share employees, operating costs and board members. The report notes that parking concession proceeds were supposed to be used only for “restoration and preservation purposes.”

Testifying before the council on Friday, Feiteira said she was in support of the resolution to end the parking concession with the group.

“I think the time has come for financial accountability to be put in place,” she said. “To make my job as an (executive director) easy.”

Feiteira supported first-reading passage of a bill to establish a Hawaiian Cultural Restoration Revolving Fund for the deposit of all proceeds from the parking concession.

According to council documents, the fund shall be used for the “preservation and restoration of Hawaiian historic and cultural artifacts and sites in the county, including the Mokuhinia ecosystem restoration project.”

The concession would be under the control and management of the county or the county’s designee, the documents said.

The measure passed first reading Friday. It requires another council vote for final passage.

Testifier Tama Kaleleiki told council members not to give any more money to the Friends group, calling them “irresponsible and negligent.”

He pointed to the failure to report parking concession finances to the county and the community.

“It’s too late to ask for any patience and understanding from the county,”Kaleleiki said.

He also asked the county to recoup any county money that the organization may have as well as pursue legal action against Friends of Moku’ula for mismanagement.

Another testifier, Mahina Martin, said it’s important “to keep the funding going” to help protect and preserve Moku’ula and Mokuhinia.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at