A humbled state agency shifts its focus to Kakaako’s mauka from makai
The state's Hawaii Community Development Authority, stung by controversy over its plans for prime waterfront lands in Kakaako, is shifting its focus from the region's makai side to its less glitzy mauka side.
Where to meet
The Hawaii Community Development Authority is asking for public input and comments for its review of the Kakaako Mauka Area Plan and Rules. The first meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Kakaako Room at the Ward Warehouse on Tuesday. For additional information or to be placed on the HCDA's e-mail or mailing list, please call 587-2870.
The agency will hold a public meeting Tuesday to talk about a potential change in its development approach and set plans for the mauka area, which is populated by industrial and small businesses and residential condominiums.
"It's a good idea to step back and re-examine the plan and the rules periodically," said Dan Dinell, the HCDA's executive director. "That concept is seen very clearly in the makai area by our decision to terminate the master plan and form a committee to come up with new recommendations. We are taking a big step back."
After highly vocal public opposition to a proposed development in the makai area culminated in passage of a bill by the Legislature that effectively killed the project, the HCDA earlier this week unanimously voted to terminate all plans and ban the sale of state lands there.
For the mauka area, which encompasses 450 acres bounded by Punchbowl, Piikoi, King streets and Ala Moana, HCDA has hired consultant PlanPacific for $300,000 to engage the public before moving ahead.
"We especially want to be more responsive and sensitive to smaller business and landowners that are really an important part of Kakaako," Dinell said.
Dexter Okada, whose family has operated the food wholesale business U. Okada & Co. in Kakaako since 1954, is concerned that redevelopment of the region's mauka side will increase costs and decrease benefits for the region's small businesses.
Since the HCDA began gentrifying Kakaako's mauka side by making infrastructure upgrades, facilities improvements and mixed-use zoning changes, Okada said that he's been hit with higher fees and taxes.
"The increased costs make it harder for us to do essential things like upgrade our own facilities," Okada said. The impacts are even worse for businesses that are in the mauka plan's two-year construction zone, he said.
"They lose revenue from the construction and get assessed as well -- it's a double whammy."
Okada is just one of 30 or so small businesses in the region who formed the Kakaako Business and Landowners Association to protect their interests, and who have taken their concerns about the mauka plan's economic impact to the HCDA, the small business review board and Gov. Linda Lingle's office.
"The current plan on the books is a superblock plan and it's very unfriendly to small businesses," said Okada, who has been complaining to HCDA since the end of 2003.
Rep. Bev Harbin (D, Kakaako-Iwilei-Honolulu) said she plans to attend the Tuesday meeting to support her constituents. While Harbin said she recognizes the need for infrastructure and facility improvements in Kakaako mauka, she does not believe that these upgrades should be funded on the backs of Hawaii's small business community.
"If the current plan prevails, no matter how you cut it, many small businesses will be gone because they can't absorb the impact of the increased assessments and property taxes," Harbin said. "I ended up having to close a 12-year-long business because it couldn't take the impact of the fees."
Dinell said the revision to the Kakaako Mauka Area Plan and Rules is intended to update the 1982 plan, which relied heavily on land consolidation and superblocks.
The goal in the revisions is to design a more pedestrian-friendly urban neighborhood that accommodates multiple modes of transportation and maximizes access, circulation and mobility, he said. Objectives for the region could include promoting mixed-use neighborhoods, strengthening the region's connections with surrounding districts, adding to existing assets and planned investments and reconfiguring the plan to better meet the needs of existing businesses and property owners, Dinell said.