Council backs taller urban high-rises
High-rise buildings could get even higher in urban Honolulu, under a resolution that the City Council unanimously approved yesterday.
Zoning Chairman Charles Djou, author of the resolution, said he hopes that in the short term, the measure will encourage the city administration to build right up to current height limits instead of recommending heights below the ceiling.
"Under existing law, go to the maximum, but over the long term, let's look at increasing those height limits in the urban core," Djou said.
While the resolution does not have the force of law, an administration official said the message from the Council is clear.
"It's an indication to us that there are things that the City Council wants us to look at," said Henry Eng, director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting. "And we'll certainly take that into consideration when we handle future applications."
Djou said that increasing height limits will increase density in the primary urban center -- the area that generally runs between Waialae-Kahala and Pearl City -- by building up instead of out.
The height limit for downtown Honolulu buildings is 350 feet, but Hawaii's tallest building, the First Hawaiian Center built in 1996, received an exemption to build to 430 feet.
Djou said that Hawaii is a long way from creating the kind of super-skyscrapers that hover over cities like New York or Chicago, which is home to the tallest building in the U.S.: the Sears Tower at 1,450 feet.
"While increasing heights is controversial and not universally welcomed -- we don't want Manhattan in Honolulu -- nevertheless, given the choice of paving over more of our open space, I think going up is a better policy position," Djou said.
The increased density, he said, will help to boost housing supply to meet the island's growing population and help address Honolulu's housing crunch.
Djou said that having more residents living in town also will help ease traffic congestion from Leeward Oahu.
Building heights will also come into play as debate continues over whether the city should move forward with planning for rail transit and the housing surrounding transit stations.
"Residents of the primary urban center are very worried about increased density and the fact that a transit line will be coming through," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, whose Makiki-Manoa district is in the primary urban center.
Among those concerns is whether the current infrastructure can support growing density.
"Our infrastructure is such that it is already breaking down. Our water, sewers and our roads cannot handle a higher density," city employee Dan Neyer testified.
Chairwoman's push to form affordable-housing panel fails
The City Council failed yesterday to pass a resolution offered by newly installed Chairwoman Barbara Marshall to set up an ad hoc committee to look into affordable-housing issues.
Marshall introduced the resolution that appointed herself and three other members -- Todd Apo, Gary Okino and Donovan Dela Cruz -- to the ad hoc committee, which also would set city policy on affordable housing.
A city attorney told the Council that the committee -- made up of less than a majority of the nine-member Council -- met the requirements under the state's open-meeting laws to gather behind closed doors.
That raised eyebrows.
"I don't want any closed door, back-room deals cut or made in the formation of our affordable-housing policy," said Councilman Charles Djou, who voted against the measure.
"I think we should attempt and really work hard to include the public and have a discussion in committee first," said Dela Cruz, former Council chairman, who also objected to the resolution.
But Apo said the discussion internally first among four members is a good start to formulate a framework for the city's policy.
"We've done many of these interaction groups before. They don't have power. They're not going to go out and make the final decision," said Apo, the current Council vice chairman.
Councilman Rod Tam did not attend yesterday's meeting, leaving eight members present. The final vote was 4-4, in essence killing the measure because a majority did not support it.