Caution needed in Ewa Plain development


POSTED: Thursday, August 13, 2009

City boundaries drawn in 1997 for urban growth on the Ewa Plain include a large undeveloped segment between Kapolei and Waipahu, but the issue of whether to go forward with housing construction is hotly contested. If the state Land Use Commission agrees to allow housing on what is called Oahu's best agricultural land, it should delay the start-up until transportation infrastructure, including the rail line planned to run through it, is in place.

The Schuler Division of Texas developer H.R. Horton plans to begin construction of what it calls Ho'opili in 2012, according to its Web site. Over a period of 20 years, the company plans to complete high-density development, including nearly 12,000 homes, on more than 1,500 acres.

Prominent economist Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economic Consulting warns that allowing Horton to pave over “;the best ag land on the island”; would be irreversible. “;It doesn't cost us anything to leave it as it is,”; he told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan. The land now is farmed by three tenants, growing crops such as sweet corn, beans, melons, pumpkin and lettuce.

In an emerging era of sustainability, with calls for balance in protecting the environment while growing stable businesses, the permanent loss of prime acreage deserves a renewed look.

Kioni Dudley, president of the Friends of Makakilo, opposes the development, pointing out that 33,000 homes in the Leeward area have been zoned and are ready for construction. Since the “;Second City”; in Ewa was launched, adequate roadways have been put off until the housing was in place, to the chagrin of commuters.

Bob Bruhl, vice president of development for Horton-Schuler, acknowledges that traffic is a legitimate concern, but he maintains that problems will be alleviated by current road improvements. Indeed, various belated improvements to the H-1 freeway and other road widening in the area may alleviate traffic congestion as early as next year.

However, the rail transit line between Kapolei and Ala Moana is not forecast to be completed until 2019, and that will happen only if all goes as planned. Dudley maintains that “;there's no way to solve that problem even with rail,”; but that is disputable. Conversely, the area's burgeoning population could assure the rail's early success.

In addition, Bruhl predicts that many residents will work in the community where they live. That has been true in Kapolei, but traffic has been a growing problem nevertheless, and improvements are made long after they should be.

Significantly, while Hawaii's 16 construction labor unions generally support housing projects, the AFL-CIO's Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council is asking that the Land Use Commission defer action on the issue “;until community concerns are rectified.”; Many of the unions' 56,000 members statewide live in the Makakilo-Kapolei area.