Maui officials aim to accelerate processing of permits to help Lahaina rebuild

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HONOLULU (AP) — Local officials in Hawaii next month plan to open an office that will speed up Maui County’s notoriously slow processing of building permits to help the town of Lahaina to recover from last year’s deadly wildfire.

Keanu Lau Hee, the county’s deputy managing director, told a community meeting in Lahaina that a County Expedited Permitting Center will open in April. She said the county has selected a vendor to it help review applications.

“If any of you have had the pleasure of filing a permit with the county – we’re not that quick,“ she said at the meeting, which was held on Wednesday and streamed online.

Hawaii’s four counties, and Maui County in particular, are well-known for lengthy permit processing times. University of Hawaii researchers have found that in the last five years, the state’s median wait time for a construction permit to build a multifamily project was 400 days.

The Aug. 8 wildfire destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and displaced 4,500 people in Lahaina. Lau Hee said 87% of those who lost their homes were renters, and the rest were homeowners.

The new permitting center will help private developers building five separate projects with a combined total of more than 500 housing units.

Lau Hee said the county also wants to help property owners rebuild after workers finish cleaning toxic debris and utility infrastructure is in place. She said the county hopes properties will be cleared by early next year.

“Our goal is to create opportunities for you folks to start rebuilding on your properties,” she said.

About 3,800 residents are still living in hotels.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is building 169 temporary housing units for displaced residents and is renting 1,300 units from landlords. The state of Hawaii is building about 450 temporary housing units, including 270 that will be ready by July or August. The state’s temporary units are expected to be used for three to five years.