Agency will not accelerate Kakaako development
With the Legislature considering a dozen bills that could affect Alexander & Baldwin Inc.'s proposed Kakaako Waterfront development or the state agency overseeing it, the lawmaker who represents the district has asked the agency to delay further action on the project.
Rep. Anne Stevens (R, Waikiki-Ala Moana) has asked the Hawaii Community Development Authority "to consider not moving forward" until the Legislature has time to decide whether it will pass any of the measures.
Dan Dinell, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, would not say the agency would delay all action until the legislative session ends in May. But he said the agency will move deliberately.
"We don't want to speed it up," Dinell said of the agency's process. "We want to make sure there is a full airing (of concerns) and that this is on balance a real positive development.
"The Legislature clearly has concerns and issues, and we clearly need to let that play out as well."
The comments from Stevens and Dinell reflect the current state of the Kakaako Waterfront project. Five months after the state agency selected A&B's proposal for a $650 million mixed-use development on mostly blighted property, the project has slowed down before a potential quagmire in the Legislature.
The proposed legislation would impose restrictions on the HCDA that could stall or kill the Waterfront project. They range from requiring greater legislative oversight of the HCDA to abolishing it altogether.
The HCDA's next step is to enter a nonbinding letter of intent with A&B Properties Inc. The letter would outline the scope of the development, which A&B has revised based on community input and talks with the state agency. The proposed project includes public park space, an amphitheater and markets, as well as about 635 condominiums and retail shopping space, to be located on 35.5 oceanfront acres near Ala Moana.
Already the agency has postponed some actions. The development authority and A&B initially were scheduled to enter into the letter of intent in January, but that date was pushed back until next month as the HCDA gives citizens time to comment. It could be months after the signing of the letter of intent before a binding final development agreement is signed.
The controversy centers on the proposed condominiums, which A&B wants to build on land bought from the state. The sale of the units would allow A&B to generate enough money to pay for the whole development, including park spaces, without charging taxpayers. A&B has said it likely can't do the project without the condos. But critics oppose the sale of the land and the development of the condos.
At the authority's monthly meeting earlier this week, representatives of Save Our Kakaako Makai offered fresh details of an alternative plan for the Kakaako waterfront. The so-called People's Preferred Plan calls for extensive park space and museums and cultural attractions that would produce revenue from tourists to pay for the development. It involves no condos and no sale of public land.
Michelle Matson, a Save Our Kakaako Makai volunteer who presented the plan to the HCDA board, said her group is not trying to be a developer, but is offering a different vision. That vision is similar to another alternative plan proffered by the activist group Friends of Kewalo Basin Park Association.
But not all the people prefer the People's Preferred Plan. Larry Chun, a citizen who spoke in opposition to Matson, pointed out that the alternative plan's financing sources were speculative and envision using public bonds, while A&B's project would be paid for by the company.
"The state and city are not going to put money into this project," Chun said. "The state and city want to take money out of this project."
Ron Iwami, president of Friends of Kewalo Basin, said Gov. Linda Lingle had assured the group that the Legislature would be able to undo anything the HCDA did. Lingle also told the activists she does not have the authority to interfere with the HCDA, which was created by the Legislature as a semiautonomous agency, Iwami said.
"The governor's right," Stevens said. The Legislature "could always pass emergency legislation to undo this or do that. But it seems like that is not the Legislature's intent at this point."
Stevens said the state agency should refrain from any significant actions until the fate of the bills is known.
"I don't know if they could keep A&B on hold for this period of time, but I hope they could," Stevens said.
Some opponents have called on the development authority to terminate negotiations with A&B and begin exploring other plans. But Dinell said terminating the process with A&B would not be that simple.
"Can we cancel if A&B really wants to keep it? Probably not," Dinell said.
If A&B walked away from the project, Dinell said, the HCDA could terminate the request-for-proposals process. But that, he said, would not mean the HCDA necessarily would begin a new effort to redevelop Kakaako, which now consists largely of light industrial facilities.
"I think we would have to take a step back ... and strategically decide what is the best course at that time," he said. "It's difficult to speculate what might happen."