The 1977 decision to transform fields of sugar cane in West Oahu into a new city known as Kapolei is one of Honolulu’s most significant planning decisions.
Nearly $11 billion has been spent on major infrastructure, commercial and industrial improvements in the Kapolei region over the last 10 years, and billions more are expected.
But some urban planners now think that starting a community from scratch miles away from downtown Honolulu was a bad idea.
Originally envisioned as a solution for Honolulu’s affordable housing crisis and bad traffic congestion, Kapolei is still largely a residential community. Many residents spend hours commuting to and from urban Honolulu for work.
The decision to leapfrog growth into Kapolei has had the added effect of promoting development on what had once been productive farmland and creating urban sprawl.
In an ideal world, some planners think Kapolei would not have been developed the way it has been. Instead, Honolulu would include more high-density low-rise and mid-rise buildings, rather than so many single-family homes and skyscrapers.
“It has been a mistake and now we are paying in a dear way, in many ways,” said Luciano Minerbi, a planner who has taught at the University of Hawaii since 1969.
Planning principles have evolved since Kapolei was first carved out as the Second City in the 1977 Oahu General Plan. At that time, “smart
Honolulu’s director of planning and permitting is contemplating the creation of a new rural land development standard to make it easier and less expensive to build new homes in rural parts of Oahu.
That is among many ideas George Atta is exploring as he ponders ways to address the needs of a growing population without changing Oahu’s urban boundaries.
Atta sees creating a new rural development standard as a way to make the construction of more affordable housing possible for Oahu residents who want to live near their jobs in rural areas.
This idea is also favored by Eric Beaver, the president of Hawaii Reserves Inc., the land development arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).
Beaver thinks such a designation could be created by adopting a new rural land ordinance or by adding a section to Honolulu’s current land use ordinance to deal with new housing development in rural Oahu.
All homes on Oahu must now follow standards required for urban construction, but a rural standard could allow, for example, more open space with fewer streetlights, sidewalks and other amenities than are required in urban developments.
“It is a way to have a different standard more in keeping with a rural area and to bring the cost of construction down,” said Beaver.
I spoke with Atta and Beaver in separate phone conversations over the weekend to
The Honolulu City Council Zoning and Planning Committee approved a planning document for the North Shore on Thursday but amended it to remove a highly controversial new residential community at Gunstock Ranch in Malaekahana.
Dozens of supporters drove down from Laie on Thursday to advocate for the development before City Council members. They told stories of overcrowding and family members who were forced to move away because they couldn’t afford to rent or buy a home in their community in windward Oahu.
They urged the city lawmakers to approve the Koolauloa Sustainable Communities Plan as drafted by the city Department of Planning and Permitting, which included references to a new residential community on Malaekahana.
But Zoning and Planning Committee Chairman Ikaika Anderson said he wants to stick with the island’s General Plan, which calls for keeping the North Shore rural. The committee voted unanimously to pass his amendments to Bill 47 that remove all references to new housing in Malaekahana.
“I don’t believe that the people proposing this are bad people or they want to do anything ill in their community,” Anderson said. “I’m just of the view that this particular development does not fit in the Malaekahana area.”
Anderson said he’s often thought about whether he would support a similar development in Waimanalo, where he lives, to help his children find homes in their hometown.
“I’ve come to the very difficult
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