Debate Over La`ie Expansion Continues As Community Plan Nears Council Vote

posted in: Development, November 2013 | 0
The Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting continues to stand behind its Ko`olau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan, which proposes expanding the urban growth boundary in La`ie to allow for the construction of an entirely new town on agricultural land in Malaekahana. The move, DPP argues, is in part an attempt to relieve overcrowding in La`ie, where multiple generations living together – often with several children each – is commonplace.

But some members of the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee aren’t convinced those families will be able to afford any of the 875 new homes proposed to be built by Gunstock Ranch owner Hawai`i Reserves, Inc. (HRI).

According to the plan, some of those homes will be affordable, some will be market-priced, and the rest will be for faculty and staff of nearby Brigham Young University (BYU), which is seeking to grow its student population from about 2,700 to 5,000.

At the end of a four-hour public hearing on October 8, committee chair Ikaika Anderson pointed out that he has four children and lives in a multi-generational household.

“Without question, our people need affordable housing, [but] we need to learn the price of those homes,” he said, noting that he also wanted to know whether the new jobs that are expected to be generated by the proposed developments in the area will provide adequate wages.

As Ka`a`awa resident Dee Dee Letts testified during the meeting, research has found that the vast majority of La`ie residents currently don’t earn enough to purchase a home on O`ahu.

Committee member and Ko`olau Loa district council representative Ernie Martin said he wanted answers from the DPP on how and why it chose to amend the community’s June 2009 version of the plan, which proposed keeping the current urban growth boundary intact and limiting the expansion of the Turtle Bay Resort.

At the beginning of the October 8 meeting, new DPP director George Atta admitted that the issue he had the most difficulty with was the revision to the urban growth boundary.

“We don’t move it very easily,” Atta said. Even so, he said his department’s decision to move it was based on good planning principles.

He said if an area experiences natural, organic growth, or economic changes, his department must consider how they affect the vitality of the community.

In La`ie, much of the proposed development – often referred to as Envision La`ie – grew out of a community outreach effort driven by HRI, a large property owner in La`ie and a land manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In addition to BYU-Hawai`i, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), also a church-affiliated entity in La`ie, is also planning a major expansion. A new hotel that will employ BYU students and an adjacent commercial center have already received city approvals. This growth could several thousand more people to the area.

Letts and others who opposed the DPP’s revisions suggested allowing more growth in La`ie, but within the existing growth boundary.

“I propose you look at where you’re putting it rather than whether we need it or not,” she said, adding that there is plenty of land in the area already in the state Urban District and that BYU-Hawai`i is the least-dense campus in Hawai`i.

Letts suggested that height limits could be increased to allow for vertical rather than horizontal growth. But DPP planner Raymond Young told Environment Hawai`i that wasn’t likely to happen because it might affect the rural character of the area.

The bill to amend the Ko`olau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan – Bill 47 – passed first reading by the Honolulu City Council on August 7. The plan must receive approval by the full council twice more before it becomes an ordinance.

“Please understand, Bill 47 has a ways to go,” Anderson told the crowd at the October 8 hearing.

Jockeying for Position

As the plan moves closer to a final vote by the City Council, representatives both for and against it are doing whatever they can to sell their case – taking meetings with council members, seeking support from neighborhood boards around the island, circulating petitions, and sending email blasts and posting notices asking supporters to attend crucial meetings.

For example, opponents of Bill 47 have won the support of neighbor hood boards and community associations for Kawela Bay, the North Shore, Waiahole-Waikane, Punalu`u, Ka`a`awa, Kahalu`u, Kailua, and La`ie Point. Supporters of the bill have the Ko`olau Loa Neighborhood Board, and the Kahuku and La`ie community associations on their side.

The divide between the two factions is most easily determined at public hearings and meetings by T-shirt color: Those in support wear pale blue “Envision La`ie” shirts; those against wear deep green “Keep the Country Country” shirts.

For the October 8 Zoning and Planning Committee meeting held in the Kahuku High & Intermediate School cafeteria, BYUH posted a notice on its calendar informing Envision La`ie supporters to show up at 5:30 for food and to sign-up in advance for their free blue T-shirt.

On the day of the meeting, on the school lawn immediately fronting the doors to the cafeteria, friendly women served burgers at the front of a tent to a small crowd decked out almost entirely in blue T-shirts. In the back, where a large Envision La`ie sign swayed in the breeze, were trays of cookies and stacks of more blue shirts.

According to the state Department of Education’s website, anyone seeking to use school facilities must submit an application 10 days in advance. Depending on the type of use, daily or hourly fees may apply, ranging from $1/hour for a practice room to $232/hour for an auditorium. The fee for use of school playfields/grounds is $5/hour.

“We just came and set up. I’m not aware we called anybody,” said Elisabeth Logan, assistant manager for Human Resources and Communications for HRI. “There was no school today.”

The Polynesian Cultural Center provided the desserts, BYUH supplied the burgers, and HRI set everything up, she said.

For Further Reading

Environment Hawai`i has published these other articles on the Ko`olau Loa SCP:

    • “Commission Approves Ko`olau Loa Plan Despite Questions Over Housing Figures,” May 2013;
    • “New & Noteworthy: Green v. Blue,” January 2011;
    • “State Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Supplemental Review of Kuilima Expansion,” March 2010.

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