Kailua transformation -- all that glitters might not be gold
The Star-Bulletin's story last Sunday "Transforming Kailua Town" makes us mindful of the threats to the future of Kailua and to the character traits that endear it to its residents. The glitter of "progress" via development is being dangled before our eyes again. It's a good time to remember that all that glitters is not gold and might not even be of value.
This "progress" has already dislodged many former "small town" merchants in Kailua. The future of others is on the block. Kailua is not alone in this concern. Recently, the advent of Whole Foods at the Kahala Mall coincided with the departure of several venerable tenants, creating a disquieting situation.
Into this arena, we ask the participants to seek a transcending goal as they try to "transform" our town. This goal is to preserve the desirable attributes, general character and pleasing atmosphere of Kailua. It is important that the so-called "growing pains" referred to in relation to "transformations" be prevented from becoming chronic diseases. That's why the community group Keep It Kailua is concerned with these changes to Kailua, and will be carrying out its goal of making sure that only change for the good of the community is embraced and other change is prevented.
What category does Kaneohe Ranch's desires for Kailua fall into? Well, we're not quite sure yet -- but we have seen that Kaneohe Ranch is a much more aggressive entity under its new CEO, Mitch D'Olier, than it had been previously. D'Olier, formerly CEO of the Victoria Ward Estate in Kakaako, did a lot of developing there, which was a distinct change for the previously semi-dormant Ward Estate. When he was through, Ward Estate was sold to General Growth Properties Inc., a national real estate giant and owner of the Ala Mona Shopping Center. Is that a scenario that might be repeated in Kailua?
Kaneohe Ranch owns about 45 acres in central Kailua. This is less than 1 percent of the whole town, but it is the "center" of town and what happens there can establish an image for the community. Otherwise, it is an insignificant portion of Kailua and this "tail" should not be allowed to swing the "dog" in the wrong direction. Kaneohe Ranch did conduct an extensive opinion survey in Kailua in 2004. The populace responded emphatically. They said the most important concern was to keep the "small town" feeling of Kailua and to manage growth accordingly. This same theme had been repeated by people making comments at the Kailua Town Party over many years.
One of the uncertainties about Kaneohe Ranch's intentions arises when its plans dislocate existing tenants for the purpose of accommodating a 40,000-square-foot store for the national retailer Whole Foods. Is this consistent with our "small town" atmosphere? Does this "small town" need and, more important, can its population of 40,000 plus 11,000 Marine families support five supermarkets and a health-food store within a half-mile radius, and seven supermarkets and a commissary within 1 mile or so of one another? Something might have to give.
Or will the proliferation of national retailers require market expansion beyond that available in Kailua for some to survive? Where would such market expansion come from? The official community plan for Kailua, the city's Ko'olaupoko Sustainable Communities Plan, indicates that Kailua has reached a growth saturation point and projects future change at the miniscule rate of 0.15 percent a year. Consequently, market expansion is not likely to come from growth. Kaneohe Ranch already has raised another question about its intentions by reaching out to other markets on Oahu with its "Shop Kailua" advertising campaign, begun around the time of the Kailua Pier 1 Imports opening.
Other potential for expanding markets for national retailers in Kailua exists in the area of tourism. Greed already is driving some to try to change the character of Kailua into a resort town. Not surprisingly this movement finds support in the small number of merchants in Kailua's business district and through them into the Kailua Chamber of Commerce. Kaneohe Ranch is a major mover in the Kailua Chamber of Commerce. Is Kaneohe Ranch counting on this direction for market expansion? We hope not, because the vast majority of Kailua's residents opted to live in a residential area, not a resort.
Kaneohe Ranch says it wants to keep Kailua, Kailua, but what do we measure, actions or words? When actions are inconsistent with words, we worry. We worry about the seeming inconsistency between the market needs of large national retailers and the continuance of "small-town" Kailua. We worry about Kaneohe Ranch's disavowal of a "resort" town desire when it already has made efforts toward market expansion beyond Kailua. We worry that an unnecessary parking structure poses a future loss of open-space parking for new buildings. We worry when Kaneohe Ranch says it aspires to a pedestrian-oriented town center, but acts to insert new streets in the interior of our already pedestrian-oriented super-block behind Macy's and Longs. Introducing through-traffic into a pedestrian-oriented area is not usually the way to make it more pedestrian-friendly!
We worry, and so we will watch and act to make sure the desirable traits of the Kailua community are not threatened by design, lost by inadvertence or otherwise circumvented under the guise of "progress."
Don Bremner is the spokesman for Keep It Kailua. He is a former city planner and executive officer of the Waikiki Improvement Association.