STAR-BULLETIN FILE / JANUARY
The newest condos in Kakaako -- the Moana Pacific, far left; the Koolani, center left, and the Hokua at 1288 Ala Moana, center right, -- all stand at 400 feet.
Reaching for higher limits
The City Council wants to raise height restrictions downtown to discourage urban sprawl and encourage public transportation
Honolulu developers may be reaching for new height limits in the next construction boom cycle.
A City Council resolution passed earlier this year urges the building permit department to allow more flexible height limits in Honolulu's urban core.
No new high-rise buildings are planned at this time. However, City Councilman Charles Djou, author of the resolution, said he thought it was timely.
The heights of the state's tallest buildings pale in comparison to the tallest in the nation and the world.
|First Hawaiian Bank
Outside the state
|Tallest in the U.S.:
in the world:
Source: Building developers
"My hope is that as development proceeds in the next decade or so, that the city encourages higher buildings in the urban core," he said.
The urban core, as Djou defined it, stretches from east of Moanalua to west of Kahala.
"What motivates me, is I think one of the reasons a lot of people choose to live in Hawaii is its beautiful, natural environment," he said. "We face a choice: Either we continue to pave over paradise, and build out, or look at going up. I think the policy decision of city government for too long has been to go out."
More urban density will discourage urban sprawl, says the resolution, while encouraging the use of public transportation.
The resolution was opposed in testimony by community activists such as Nancy Hedlund of the Ala Moana/Kakaako neighborhood board.
"We do not need increased height limits," Hedlund said in her testimony. "Have you driven through Kakaako and Waikiki lately? Do you see how our horizon is disappearing in the face of high-rises that are serving economic purposes for developers to house the well-to-do, but are not serving the interest of the majority of the citizens?"
It was, however, supported by Buzz Hong, executive director of the Hawaii Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.
Henry Eng, director of the City Department of Planning and Permitting, said the resolution is advisory, but would be weighed in for the consideration of future developments.
'We will need to review individual situations to determine whether that increased density is supportable by existing and planned infrastructure," Eng said. "To us that is key, that any new development be adequately served by infrastructure."
Under the state Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees the redevelopment of Kakaako, new residential towers over the last two years were allowed to go up to 400 feet.
The new glass towers of Hokua at 1288 Ala Moana, Koolani, Moana Pacific and Keola Lai reach up to 400 feet, setting records for residential buildings in Honolulu.
HCDA Executive Director Daniel Dinell, whose agency granted permits to build the towers, said 400 feet has been accepted since 1982, when the mauka area rule plans went into effect.
"It's good to have articulation in the building heights, so that some are taller and some are shorter," Dinell said. "That's what creates visual interest in terms of a panorama."
General Growth's mixed-use project at the former Ward Villages, for instance, is expected to go up 220 feet, though it could have gone up to 400 feet.
Dinell said in the revision of the mauka area rules, there may be a consideration of orienting buildings mauka to makai, so that they don't block view planes. Looking up the Bishop Street corridor, for instance, someone walking mauka may see the profile of Capitol Place, whereas they might have seen the Koolaus previous to PMK Development's high-rise construction.
More importantly, Dinell said, consideration will be given to increasing density along the transit line to reduce the need for parking.
Djou said he was struck with the idea of increasing height limits one day while driving past the fast-developing Ewa plain. Unlike the city of Phoenix or Las Vegas, where there is plenty of open desert space, said Djou, land on the island of Oahu is limited.
Developers all for it
Most developers, given the chance to build higher, would go for it.
Rick Stack, project manager of Keola Lai, said he thought the logic of building higher in the urban core was correct, but how the city would apply it to its rules remains unclear.
Sure, said Stack, A&B Properties would have added another 100 feet if it could. "It does give you a lot more flexibility with what you could do with the site," he said.
It could mean larger-sized units, or it could mean more affordable units within a project.
Allen Leong, operations manager for KC Rainbow Development's Moana Pacific, twin towers which measure 400 feet tall each, said more height flexibility could help projects pencil out economically.
Another 100 feet on top of a tower would equal possibly 11 more stories, resulting in another 99 residential units.
"By definition, the higher floors could sell for more," said Leong.
By the same token, adding another 100 feet of building would require more foundation work, structural engineering needs, and stronger water pumps. In all, he said, the extra height could translate into another 35 percent more in construction costs.
But would he do it?
"Probably," said Leong.
Moana Vista, a companion residential tower to the Moana Pacific project across the street on Kapiolani Boulevard, also will be 400 feet tall.
Steve Baldridge, of Baldridge & Associates Structural Engineering Inc., said he would advocate a height limit of up to 600 feet in Honolulu. Baldridge said the taller buildings are more interesting and fun to work on.
Waikiki, which is in a special design district, only allows hotels and residential towers up to 350 feet, unless the developer is granted a variance.
Watermark Waikiki, at a height of 373 feet, was able to obtain a variance because of its energy efficient features.
STAR-BULLETIN FILE / JANUARY
Downtown Honolulu's different-sized buildings offer a picturesque skyline in front of Nuuanu Valley.
Not in Waikiki
Francis Haines, chairman of Architects Hawaii
, who leads an architectural walking tour of Honolulu, said there are aesthetic reasons for keeping the height limits in Waikiki down.
Haines said in the 1950s, the 350-foot height limit was put into place because it was about half the height of Diamond Head, a major skyline feature at 761 feet.
"They didn't want any building one-half the height of Diamond Head," said Haines, who said he supports keeping it that way. "If you go too high, it will kill the importance of Diamond Head. But downtown I see no reason not to raise the height farther."
Buildings in the downtown and Kakaako area, on the other hand, can preserve view planes, and present more open space at the ground level, said Haines, by going higher.
The First Hawaiian Bank building is a prime example, with its broad, ground-level plaza. Haines said he wouldn't mind if height limits went up to 500 feet tall.
When it was built in September 1926, the Aloha Tower reigned over all others as the tallest structure in Honolulu. Today, it is easily dwarfed by downtown Honolulu office buildings and Waikiki hotels.
The tallest building in the state, to date, is still the First Hawaiian Bank building, built in 1996 at a height of 438 feet by William Pederson of Kohn, Pederson, Fox & Associates.
If Honolulu moves forward with a higher building for its next project, it would be following the wake of other metropolises, including San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia, that have reconsidered their building height limitations to create more elegant and open skylines.
However, Honolulu's heights are easily dwarfed by mainland skyscrapers -- the tallest in the nation being the 1,451-foot tall Sears Tower in Chicago. In Taipei, Taiwan, the tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101, reaches up 1,469 feet into the sky on an island.
"Hawaii people don't want Honolulu to be like a big city," said Haines, "but the reality is that it already is."