New Queen Street approach faces critics
Some people remain unhappy with the state's approach to redeveloping Kakaako Mauka
The Hawaii Community Development Authority's new approach to redeveloping the mauka side of Kakaako hasn't impressed Cliff Garcia, second-generation owner of Tropical Lamp & Shade Co. on Queen Street.
Garcia was one of many small business and property owners who went Tuesday night to hear from a consultant hired by the state agency to guide redevelopment of Kakaako Mauka.
The meeting was the first of a series on the area plan and rules for Kakaako Mauka, which encompasses 450 acres bounded by the streets of Punchbowl, Piikoi, King and Ala Moana.
The consultant, PlanPacific of Honolulu, presented a vision of small urban villages around existing parks, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, parking options and low-rise residential projects.
But Garcia and other Queen Street property owners within the mauka boundaries wanted more specific information about the $15.6 million in improvements scheduled to begin in January.
Controversy over plans for the street -- more specifically the stretch between Ward Avenue and Kamakee Street referred to as Improvement District 11 -- has been broiling for more than two years.
The state plans to transform that stretch into a four-lane thoroughfare with sidewalks.
Small business owners there are concerned about where customers and employees will park once the improvements begin, and feel they are unfairly bearing the brunt of the costs.
In response, HCDA sent out a team to survey small property owners, came up with a new formula that lowered assessments and set up a temporary parking lot for customers.
"We know it will be difficult," said Daniel Dinell, executive director of HCDA. "We've compromised and we've made adjustments, and it's our goal to improve the health and safety of this roadway for the people of Honolulu."
Garcia, for one, is not appeased.
"Let's back off and plan this whole thing again without hurting the majority of small businesses," he said. "I'm not against the improvements, but I'm against how they're doing it."
In response to the opposition, HCDA hired an independent assessor last year and offered to buy two feet of street from property owners on the Queen Street stretch.
Most of them, including Garcia, signed the agreement, which called for about $155 per square foot.
Garcia reluctantly signed the agreement in August of last year. Even then, the state informed him in a letter that "in the event an agreement regarding the offer to purchase cannot be reached, the HCDA will request that the Department of the Attorney General file eminent domain proceedings."
Linda Holt, CEO of Jeans Warehouse, which owns a 7,000-square-foot property on Queen Street, refused to sign the agreement.
"The issue may be resolved in HCDA's mind, but not in our mind," she said. "We have never been on the same page as them, and we're still not."
Plans for the Queen Street improvement project are part of a process that began two decades ago to systematically upgrade Kakaako's infrastructure.
Improvements include new water, sewer and drainage systems, along with sidewalks, gutters, street landscaping and metered curbside parking.
They would also include traffic signals at the intersection of Kamakee and Queen streets.
John Whalen, president of PlanPacific, said he expects Queen Street to present challenges.
"Our presentation last night wasn't to make specific proposals," said Whalen. "It was to generate opportunities."
Whalen, who coincidentally wrote a letter to HCDA on behalf of two of the Queen Street landowners back in April 2004, said he recently held a separate meeting with the small business owners.
He said PlanPacific would hold more such meetings, and eventually make some recommendations for the improvement district.
"At this time, I would say we're still looking at these small properties as having legitimate concerns about assessments in particular, and also what the plan shows for improvements," he said.
The original mauka area plan, which dates back to the early 1980s, called for superblocks with elevated walkways, which never came into fruition.
A revised draft plan is scheduled to be out by the end of the year, with revised rules in mid-2007. Those plans would need to be approved by the HCDA board.