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Developer plans 12,000 homes on 'the best ag land' on Oahu


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POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A proposal for building 12,000 homes on what is described as the best agricultural land on Oahu goes back before the state Land Use Commission tomorrow.

D.R. Horton-Schuler Division is planning a development known as Ho'opili on 1,500 acres makai of the H-1 freeway, between Waipahu and Kapolei, and is petitioning the state to change the land's designation from agricultural to urban use. The developer, which has been presenting its case over several months, expects to wrap up its arguments tomorrow, and the opposition will soon get its turn at bat.

“;This is the highest-producing agricultural land in the state, which we're going to need for our future survival,”; said Kioni Dudley, president of the Friends of Makakilo, who heads the opposition as an intervener in the Land Use Commission case. “;Even without Ho'opili, 33,000 homes have already been zoned and are ready to be built in the Leeward area. The traffic that Ho'opili is going to cause is going to be like a parking lot. There's no way to solve that problem even with rail.”;

The Ho'opili project calls for creating a community the size of Hawaii Kai or Mililani to complete the build-out of the Kapolei-Ewa area as the “;Second City.”; Although the land is designated agricultural by the state, it falls within the urban growth boundary of the city's Ewa Development Plan, and the city rail transit project is slated to run through the community.

The land is now used for farming by three tenants, including Aloun Farms, which provides a substantial amount of the local supply of crops, including sweet corn, beans, melons, pumpkin and lettuce. Bob Bruhl, vice president of development for Horton-Schuler, said the project will be built over 20 years and that “;farming can continue during the incremental build-out of Ho'opili.”;

;  Bruhl acknowledged that traffic was a big concern, but said it will be alleviated by road improvements now under way and the fact that many residents will work where they live in the community. He said the goal is to develop “;an urban place, not a suburban source of commuters.”; Higher-density development will be clustered along the rail line, which bisects the property. Mixed-use development will create jobs and include options for upstairs-downstairs homes and businesses, he said.

Along with the 12,000 homes, plans call for three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, and substantial open space, parks and bikeways, Bruhl said.

“;There are several major regional roadway, highway and freeway improvements that are under construction now and will be completed prior to the first mom-and-pop store opening for business or the first new family taking the keys to their new home,”; he said.

Horton-Schuler bought the property, formerly Oahu Sugar Co. farmland, from Campbell Estate in 2006 and has been working with community leaders to chart the project. Maeda Timson, chairwoman of the Makakilo-Kapolei-Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board, served on that task force.

The neighborhood board, of which Dudley is a member, has not formally considered the project and has no position on it yet. But speaking personally, Timson said it ties in well with other plans for the area, including the expansion of the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, the rail line, the Kroc Community Center in Kapolei and a large shopping and office complex.

“;It isn't a project that's sitting by itself—they are all linked together,”; Timson said. “;They all complement and support one another. ... You see a lot of the agriculture on the North Shore. That's where it belongs. Kapolei, west side, was designated to be a city.”;

But there is broad concern about the project's impacts. While construction unions usually support housing projects, the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council asked the commission to hold off on Ho'opili.

“;Our Council is comprised of 16 construction unions and a membership of 56,000 statewide, many of whom reside in the Makakilo Kapolei area,”; William “;Buzz”; Hong, executive director of the Trades Council, said in written testimony. “;Our members are requesting that (the proposal) be deferred until community concerns are rectified.”;

Economist Paul Brewbaker, principal of TZ Economics Consulting, will be a witness for the opposition. He said the state Constitution calls for protection of prime agricultural land, and that mission becomes more important in an environment of fluctuating oil prices and possible technological breakthroughs in biofuel.

“;It's the best ag land on the island,”; he said. “;The problem is that if you pave it over, you irreversibly extinguish the option.”;

“;We are at a fork in the road with respect to patterns of urbanization, energy alternatives and agricultural futures,”; he said. “;It is difficult to predict the outcome. I can guarantee you if you pave over the best place to grow anything, you won't have an ag option. It doesn't cost us anything today to leave it as it is.”;

PROPOSED HO'OPILI DEVELOPMENT

» 1,500 acres

» 12,000 homes

» Five schools

» Rail transit station

» Hundreds of acres of mixed-use and commercial property

» Parks, bikeways and open space

Source: D.R. Horton-Schuler Division