February came and went without a vote, despite an express wish in November by Honolulu City Council member Ikaika Anderson that one would be taken. March passed, too, and Anderson’s Bill 1, to approve the Ko‘olau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan, never made the agenda.
It’s been more than five years since the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting released its proposed update of the plan — a document that under ordinance is supposed to be updated every five but hasn’t been since 1999.
The DPP’s draft had built upon recommendations generated through two years of Public Advisory Committee meetings and, in a controversial move, incorporated proposed residential and commercial development plans for agricultural lands in Malaekahana and La‘ie managed by Hawai‘i Reserves, Inc. (HRI), the land management arm of the Mormon church. Those plans included some 875 new homes, a significant portion of which were slated for people who already lived and worked in the area.
In 2015, a bill to approve a version of the plan that had deleted all references to development at Malaekahana died, in part, because the council was unsure how much growth in the area was being allowed for in the pending revision of the O‘ahu General Plan. The DPP had not yet issued a proposed revision to the more comprehensive plan, which, among other things, would have outlined where population growth on the island should be directed.
The department finally released a draft of the general plan last December. Similar to the existing plan, it recommends that growth be directed so that only one percent of the island’s population will live in the Ko‘olau Loa region by 2040. That percentage was rounded down from the current plan’s recommendation of 1.4 percent.
Just how many people that adds up to remains to be seen. In 2013, the DPP determined that the Ko‘olau Loa population totaled 16,732 people, but expected that number to shrink to 16,172 by 2035. The proposed general plan revision, which received Planning Commission approval last month, seems to envision an even greater contraction. The plan assumes that population will grow in accordance with the most recent projections developed by the state Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism. In 2012, which appears to be the last time it projected population growth, DBEDT estimated that in 2040, 1,086,700 people would reside on O‘ahu. Given that, the general plan seems to suggest that just under 11,000 people should live in Ko‘olau Loa.
Whether or not the proposed general plan’s population distribution recommendations influence the city council’s decisions on the amount of development it will allow for in the Ko‘olau Loa region also remains to be seen.
Anderson’s Bill 1 would have kept the community growth boundary in La‘ie where it is, leaving the vast majority of the agricultural lands slated by HRI for development untouched. Many com- munity members testified at a November committee meeting that it should approve the bill unamended. But some committee members were swayed (or distracted) by a downsized housing plan unveiled by HRI at the meeting. The plan included about 90 new affordable homes in La‘ie town, many of them on the Brigham Young University’s La‘ie campus, and 250 new market-rate homes on agricultural lands across from the Malaekahana State Recreation Area, but situated in the ahupua‘a of La‘ie.
To accommodate HRI’s request, Anderson introduced on February 14 amendments to Bill 1 that would expand La‘ie’s current growth boundary to include some 50 acres within “northern La‘ie,” located adjacent to a sliver of undeveloped land he had previously proposed to designate for industrial use. He also proposed to amend the text of the plan to state that enrollment at BYU-Hawai‘i should not exceed 3,200 students over the lifetime of the 2018 plan (the DPP’s version envisioned 5,000 students, per representations made by university representatives at the time).
Also on February 14, council chair Ernie Martin introduced an amendment to Bill 1 that would specify that the Malaekahana lands located adjacent to La‘ie should “re- main undeveloped and preserved as open space, whether by a conservation easement, reclassification as preservation lands, or oth- erwise.” Martin had proposed similar, more vague language in an amendment offered just prior to the November committee meeting, which was another reason council members chose to defer voting on Bill 1. Martin and Anderson said they wanted time to discuss with HRI the possibility of establishing a conservation easement over the Malaekahana lands.
Neither of the current proposed amendments seeks to revise the population projections for the region. Even under Bill 1, the proposed plan still states that the region’s population is expected to grow from 14,500 in 2000 to 15,500 in 2035, despite DPP offering revised figures years ago and despite the population distribution recommendations in the proposed general plan revision.
— Teresa Dawson