When P. Denise La Costa joined the Maui Planning Commission nearly a year and a half ago, she knew it wouldn’t be a typical volunteer gig. And she was right. Since she came on board, La Costa has spent countless hours researching proposed projects, poring over documents and listening to public testimony so she can make important decisions for Maui’s present and future.
It’s no small feat, but La Costa says it’s 100 percent worth it. “I love the place I live and I will do everything I can to make sure Maui stays nō ka ‘oi,” she said.
In March of 2018, La Costa, owner and principal broker of La Costa Realty Hawaii, was nominated by then-Mayor Alan Arakawa and confirmed by the Maui County Council to serve on the all-volunteer, nine-member Maui Planning Commission. She quickly earned a reputation for putting the environment front and center. “When a commercial project is presented, the first question I ask is: Where’s the solar?’” she said. “We should all be concerned about the environment. Climate change is not a joke.”
Of the eight Maui residents (there is currently one vacancy) now serving on the commission, there are three Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) members: La Costa, Kellie Pali of Creative Financial and Lawrence Carnicelli of West Maui Land Company, who was recently elected chairperson. The commissioners come from all walks of life, but La Costa says they have one thing in common: a deep love for the place they call home. “We bring different perspectives because of our backgrounds, but we all want to do what’s best for Maui,” she explained. “It’s a big responsibility and we take our duty very seriously.”
The Maui Planning Commission, which meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, is responsible for advising the mayor, Maui County Council members and the county planning director on matters concerning planning programs on Maui Island and its adjacent waters (Lanai and Molokai are not within its purview—both islands have their own planning commissions). The commission also reviews general and community plans (as well as any revisions prepared by the planning director or at the request of the council) and after public hearings are held, transmits its findings and recommendations to the county council for consideration and action. Additionally, the Maui Planning Commission reviews proposed land use ordinances and amendments prepared by the planning director or by the Maui County Council, and after public hearings, submits its findings and recommendations to the county council for consideration and action; it also acts as the authority in all matters relating to the coastal zone management law and adopts rules pursuant to land use ordinances or law. “The planning commission listens to those who testify in person and who send in written testimony,” La Costa explained. “Every bit of input is considered and aspects of the testimonies are discussed. Those submitting projects or applying for special use permits (SMAs) for short-term rentals (STRs) within 500 feet of other STRs must answer questions from the commissioners during the process.”
If all of that sounds like a tall order—well, you’re right. It can be both time-consuming and arduous, especially given that the commission’s primary objective is to balance the public good with private rights and interests. “It’s a balancing act,” La Costa said. “We have to look at what residents need and what’s best for Maui… and just because something is needed doesn’t mean it’s good for Maui.”
At the end of the day, she said, “We have one mission—and that’s to ensure Maui remains nō ka ‘oi.”
The Maui News – July 22, 2019