Ho'opili project doesn't fit Hawaii's renewed focus on a sustainable economy


POSTED: Thursday, September 03, 2009

People seem to either love the Ho'opili development, or hate it. And I can understand that. I'm 28, and will soon be looking for my first affordable home. On the other hand, I'm 28, and my generation and I will have to live with the consequences of poor planning for decades to come.

Fortunately, Ho'opili offers more than a vision of houses stretching across the Ewa Plain; Ho'opili has given Hawaii the opportunity to rethink our future priorities, today.

Last Friday the decision to rezone 1,500 acres of prime agricultural land to “;urban”; came before the state Land Use Commission. The commission was created by the Legislature specifically to address concerns about “;the development of Hawaii's limited and valuable land for short-term gain for the few while resulting in long-term loss to the income and growth potential of our state's economy ... and the conversion of prime agricultural land to residential use ... “;

While done on procedural grounds, the Land Use Commission rightfully rejected the request from Ho'opili's developers.

It is important to realize that today, Hawaii imports nearly 90 percent of our food. This dependency siphons billions from our economy each year, and as the cost of oil and shipping continue to rise, so too will prices at the grocery store. So it's concerning that Ho'opili's 11,750 new homes would be built over 14 percent of Oahu's best agricultural land, which is a major contributor to our local food supply and critical to a viable agriculture industry.

Back in 1997 when the plan for more homes in Ewa was originally developed, it may have been good policy at the time. However, since then available farmland in Hawaii has declined by more than 22 percent and the cost of shipping food to the islands has skyrocketed. As a result, in the last decade there has been a paradigm shift in public policy with a new focus on diversifying our economy and redeveloping local agriculture.

The goal is to create new jobs, reduce food prices and sustain Hawaii for the long-term. We have realized there is limited space on Oahu to build new homes — and new strategies for “;smart growth”; have revolutionized urban planning, and will redevelop old industrial areas such as Kakaako, instead of building over endangered farmlands.

We have to think ahead. Ho'opili is not important because it will build homes or create jobs. Construction crews couldn't begin work until well after the City and County grants approval, potentially many months or years from now, and there are already plans for tens of thousands of other new houses in the Ewa area and thousands of more apartments, condos and lofts planned for urban Honolulu.

What does make Ho'opili important is that it is a clear-cut case of competing uses. The choice pits fertile agricultural land, home to several outstanding local farms, against another 11,750 homes. In this era of new sustainable policy, Ho'opili's rejection or approval will determine whether or not the state is serious about properly managing growth and planning ahead for the long term. It will force our leaders to follow through with commitments to smart growth, renewing local agriculture and diversifying our economy — or to proceed with short-term thinking and business as usual.

Ultimately, the plan for another 11,750 homes on agricultural land is the same urban sprawl that has paved over Oahu for the past 50 years. Hawaii's population keeps growing, and the question is not whether we need new homes. We have to have new homes. The question is where we choose to build them.


Chris Lee is state representative for House District 51 (Lanikai, Waimanalo).