Sunday, August 14, 2005

Rocky relationship
in Nuuanu

City seems indifferent to residents'
fears about hillside development

The once proud neighborhood of Nuuanu Valley has been all but abandoned by the city, and things are literally going downhill. While the taxes give you a nosebleed, the city has not done any repair work in Nuuanu Valley for years.

Community meeting

The Nuuanu-Punchbowl Neighborhood Board will discuss the proposed housing development at its meeting this week.

Time: 7 p.m.
Date: Tuesday
Place: Nuuanu Elementary School, 3055 Puiwa Lane

Wherever it's gone, the tax money from Nuuanu Valley has not gone into keeping up the infrastructure there. The roadways have been neither repaved nor repaired in years and look like those in a rural backwater. Failed overflow and drainage systems have gone completely uncorrected, all just below steep mountain slopes where rainstorms routinely flood the streets with mud, debris and rocks. These problems cannot be taken lightly; only two years ago Pat Onishi lost his daughter to a boulder falling down the same mountainside.

The bridge at Kimo Drive, a major access point, is falling apart. The roadbed has needed work for years. Structural concrete is spalling to reveal rusted rebar, giving rise to concerns that it may fail under the weight of the traffic. The access bridge at Pelekane is no better. The sewage system has not been upgraded in years and is seriously inadequate. Even the street signs are deteriorating.

Enter the developers. A 45-acre subdivision application has been filed by landowner Laumaka, LLC, a Hawaii limited liability company controlled by Patrick Shin of Honolulu. If granted, the application would permit the development of what could be an enormous number of homes on the steep mountainside above the neighborhood, destabilizing the soil, threatening even greater floods and rockslides and introducing legions of new residents and traffic on the same failing roadways and bridges and burdening the same inadequate drainage, sewage and water systems.

The outline indicates the site of the proposed development on the hillside above Nuuanu Valley.

When we pointed out these concerns to Henry Eng, the director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, he said that this application would be treated on a "ministerial" basis, imparting that he might very well approve what could be a sprawling subdivision on the mountainside, even while completely ignoring the problems we reported to him and the obvious exacerbation the project would have on these problems.

Why would the city, having ignoring our complaints, entertain this subdivision application without first bringing the existing substandard infrastructure up to par? Why would the city consider accommodating the developer-builder involved, when it has done nothing to accommodate the residents affected? That is putting the cart before the horse. The city should not permit such development without meeting its primary obligations to maintain the infrastructure.

Everyone knows how far behind the city has been in maintaining infrastructure. The potholes are only the tip of the iceberg. And everyone knows how development is climbing up, and using up, the hillsides and mountainsides all over Oahu. It is not only Nuuanu Valley that should be concerned. Oahu is really at a turning point at which the city must re-evaluate its priorities for maintenance of community infrastructure against dangerous but profitable hillside development.

If there is property damage or injury or worse as a result of the city's failure to maintain the infrastructure in the neighborhood, or of allowing a subdivision to further burden this failing infrastructure before that work is done, the city is likely to be held responsible for the losses involved. That will cost the city and all taxpayers much more than the cost of fixing things in the first place. A step in time may well save nine.

The neighborhood is not so much proud these days as it is concerned and angry. Some 300 protest signs have sprung up on front lawns throughout the neighborhood. Protest petitions signed by more than 1,000 people have been submitted to Eng. Dozens and dozens of letters of concern have been sent to his office. But none of this has yielded any meaningful response or action. Is anyone listening?

These and related issues will be discussed at a meeting of the Nuuanu-Punchbowl Neighborhood Board at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Nuuanu Elementary School. Many people from Nuuanu Valley plan to attend and voice their concerns. If you are from the neighborhood or otherwise concerned about haphazard development on the mountainsides above our communities, please plan to attend.

Jay Fidell is a Honolulu attorney and member of the Nuuanu Valley Association.

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