House opposes Kakaako waterfront project
Representatives pass a resolution asking a state agency to call off a planned Kakaako development
The state House has asked a state development agency to halt plans to partner with an Alexander & Baldwin Inc. subsidiary to redevelop 36 acres of largely blighted Kakaako waterfront property.
The nonbinding resolution passed yesterday stops short of killing A&B Properties' Kakaako Waterfront project; however, it shows that legislators are willing at least to pay lip service to residents who have opposed the use of public oceanfront land for the planned condominium development.
The resolution asks the Hawaii Community Development Authority to call off the project. It also calls for the authority to urge community members to participate in drafting new plans for the Kakaako Makai area.
"Clearly the sentiments of the public have not been served with the plan that has been issued," said Rep. Ezra Kanoho, chairman of the House Committee on Water, Land and Ocean Resources. "This resolution asks that HCDA go back to square one and be sure that the public is engaged."
Ron Iwami, a principal organizer of the Save Our Kakaako Coalition, an activist group that has opposed the development, applauded the resolution. Iwami reiterated the accusation that the authority only went through the motions of seeking public input before requesting proposals from developers to build the mixed-use "urban village" at Kakaako.
"I guess now they're feeling all the repercussions of doing that from the public," Iwami said.
Although resolutions often are little more than ceremonial gestures, a resolution pertaining to the HCDA could carry more weight. The semi-autonomous agency was created by the Legislature in 1976 to foster development of Kakaako and other public property. During the recent debate, the agency has repeatedly said it is simply fulfilling its legislative mandate. But with the House calling for the HCDA to put the brakes on the project, that argument could be weakened.
"It's something we take very seriously," said Daniel Dinell, executive director of the HCDA. "As I told the committee, the sentiments expressed by the Legislature will be seriously considered by the authority."
To be sure, not every legislator agreed wholeheartedly with the resolution.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) voted for the resolution, but with reservations. The A&B project would use revenue from the sale of the condos to create public amenities including park space, a farmers market and additional parking.
Thielen expressed skepticism that the property could be redeveloped by the state agency alone.
"I think it's unrealistic for us to believe that that area can be developed with a lot of the things we were hoping to see there for public purpose, unless there is an engine driving it that will bring in the money to allow the public-purpose facilities to be developed," she said. "We can't expect HCDA, without any money, to go ahead and put in all of the different things we wanted."
A&B maintained its posture of waiting to hear something definitive from lawmakers.
"We respect the concerns of the Legislature and we will continue to work with the HCDA and elected officials to ensure that the development of Kakaako Makai fulfills a vision of the area that is determined to be in the community's best interests," said Meredith Ching, A&B's vice president of government and community relations.