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Church defends bid to build homes in Malaekahana


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POSTED: Thursday, July 30, 2009

The property manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says its proposed development on the North Shore is necessary to sustain the financial viability of its Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus in Laie.

But critics say the 1,200 proposed homes on pasture land at Malaekahana, along with a planned 228-room hotel near Polynesian Cultural Center, runs counter to the rural nature of the area.

“;There's already a lot of traffic on the North Shore,”; Laie resident Kirk Peterson said. “;I think it would be too much for this part of the island.”;

The Koolauloa Neighborhood Board has scheduled a special public meeting at 7 tonight at the Laie School cafeteria to hear a presentation of the plan.

To move ahead with the plan, with a build-out of 20 years, would require changes in city planning and zoning and state land use classifications.

Eric Beaver, president of Hawaii Reserves Inc., property manager for the church, said the university's dormitories and many academic buildings built several decades ago are beyond their useful life.

Beaver said the proposed 228-unit hotel, built on the site of the old La'ie Inn, would be designed to train students in the hospitality business.

But the surrounding community also needs affordable housing to attract and keep faculty, he said.

“;BYU is not sustainable the way it is,”; Beaver said.

University President Steven Wheelwright said student enrollment, now at 2,400, needs to grow by 5 to 7 percent each year and eventually reach 4,000 in the next 20 years to be financially sustainable.

Wheelwright said if the university area does not grow, the church may have to look elsewhere to invest hundreds of millions of dollars and to meet its educational demand in the Pacific.

Wheelwright said that in the regional plan, part of the university's land was designated for housing for the community.

Of the 1,200 homes, he said, some 300 would be for faculty and staff and workers at the church-owned Polynesian Cultural Center, and that the housing prices would be set at about 80 percent “;affordable”; and 20 percent at market.

Hawaii Reserves manages or owns nearly 7,000 acres of land in Laie, most obtained by the church in 1865.

Some of its businesses include a water and sewage-treatment facility and the Laie Shopping Center.

Koolauloa Neighborhood Board Chairman John “;Junior”; Primacio said Hawaii Reserves' proposal is an attempt to try to provide what residents want: more affordable housing and jobs in Laie.

“;They've got to do something. Otherwise they might be in a position where the community is going to hurt,”; Primacio said.

Former Koolauloa Neighborhood Board Chairwoman Dee Dee Letts said the proposal exceeds the population density defined in the Oahu General Plan.

Letts and some other residents said the proposed project raises concerns about the adequacy of the two-lane Kamehameha Highway serving the North Shore.

“;If there's this plan for urban expansion, the highway would be a mess,”; said Creighton Mattoon, a member of the city Planning Advisory Committee for the Koolauloa area.