Bill could halt Kakaako buildup
Opposition to the residential project leaves the developer hoping for the governor's veto
Dealing a potentially fatal blow to Alexander & Baldwin's proposed Kakaako Waterfront development, a state House and Senate conference committee approved legislation yesterday banning the sale of state land, and the development of residential housing, in Kakaako makai of Ala Moana.
Legislators expressed confidence that the bill would pass votes of the full House and Senate, and even a senator who stated strong reservations about the bill said he would vote in favor of it.
That appears to leave Gov. Linda Lingle as A&B's last hope. Although the governor has said she supports the A&B development, she also has declined to say whether she would use her veto power to kill legislation that threatened the project. A spokesman for the governor offered nothing yesterday to suggest the governor had changed her position.
By prohibiting residential development or the sale of state land in Kakaako Makai, the legislation would effectively halt the project envisioned by A&B Properties Inc. The proposal calls for the development and sale of approximately 635 condominiums to pay for the mammoth project, which would transform a largely blighted industrial area into an "urban village" of condos, park space, farmer's markets and shops that would pay lease rent to the state.
A&B said its initial proposal would cost the company $650 million; it has not estimated the cost of its current proposal, which it scaled back in an attempt to assuage opponents.
A&B designed the project in response to a request for proposals issued by the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the state agency that manages land in Kakaako on behalf of taxpayers.
Although the development authority adhered to public-meeting guidelines while developing its request for proposals, it was only after A&B was selected and unveiled its plan in September that opponents came out in mass opposition to the project. Critics charged that HCDA's process failed to allow meaningful public dialogue.
Yesterday's passage of the bills by the conference committee marked the culmination of a well-organized opposition campaign that included multiple rallies, marches and community meetings.
"I think it was a good example of grass-roots democracy," said state Rep. Anne Stevens (R, Waikiki-Ala Moana).
Stevens, who has been talking to concerned constituents for months, blamed not A&B, but rather the development authority.
"I think perhaps HCDA just developed or planned in a vacuum, and the public process was not as public as it should have been," she said.
With condo towers sprouting like mushrooms in Kakaako Mauka, many residents came out against yet another project, especially one that would occupy oceanfront property. Kakaako Makai is a popular spot for surfers and bodysurfers, thanks in part to an oceanfront park built on top of a former ash pit.
Opponents of A&B's plan, including surfers and ocean enthusiasts, have called for more open space as an increasingly necessary antidote to the concrete jungle growing on the other side of Ala Moana.
"I think really this is confirming the community's position," said state Sen. Russell Kokubun, who was one of the chairmen of the conference committee.
"I think many, many members of the community were adamant about maintaining open space in that area. This was definitely in response to that call."
Kokubun stressed that the bill would not halt all development in Kakaako Makai. The Legislature has called for the creation of a farmer's market there to promote local economic development. But the residential component appears to be heading toward a ban.
To be sure, not everyone favors the bill.
Sen. Fred Hemmings Jr. (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) called the bill a "legislative knee-jerk reaction to a very vociferous group of people." A former surfing champion, Hemmings said he "vigorously supports park and ocean recreation resources on our shorelines."
But Hemmings said it was "excessive" to ban all residential development in Kakaako makai of Ala Moana, particularly when housing is scarce. He said there is enough room in Kakaako Makai to create green space as wide as Ala Moana Beach Park and still have room for condos. Nonetheless, Hemmings voted for the bill in conference committee and said he plans to vote for it when it reaches the Senate.
Others were waiting to see the bill in its final written form before commenting. Daniel Dinell, executive director of the HCDA, said it was premature to comment until then. A spokeswoman for A&B also declined to comment.
Russell Pang, a spokesman for Lingle, said the governor would not be able to comment until she had seen the bill in its final form.
Opponents of the project, meanwhile, expressed cautious optimism.
"I don't want to count my blessings before it happens, but this is a major victory for us," said Ron Iwami, an organizer for Save Our Kakaako, an umbrella group encompassing several organizations opposing the development. "It shows the strong intent of the Legislature and also the people."