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StarBulletin.com

Rebuild rundown urban Oahu instead of paving prime Ewa farmland


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POSTED: Thursday, September 03, 2009

It is very difficult to accept the permanent changes that are about to occur in Ewa in the near future. As a representative of the people, I continually made my objections known to the Land Use Commission for the last two years regarding the development of Ho'opili, a planned residential community on Ewa farmlands. Although some of my constituents support the intent of the development, working at the state Capitol and hearing the different concerns of my colleagues, I can't help but consider not only regional impacts but also statewide impacts of this massive land development.

I recently had a meeting with Bob Stanfield of the City & County Building and Permitting Department, who is in charge of the Ewa Development Plan. His main arguments against my objections of the housing plan stem from the question, “;Where else can we build more homes?”;

Although a hypothetical question, I have some real answers that the city should take into consideration.

Before Hawaii starts building more homes in Ewa, creating more traffic and depleting the islands of our valuable agricultural lands, we need to redevelop the rundown areas of urban Honolulu. We need to stop sacrificing our limited precious resources.

In Kakaako, there are acres of undeveloped land with adequate underground infrastructure already in place. Last session we passed legislation mandating a certain percentage of affordable housing depending on the land area being developed.

Areas around Kapiolani, Moiliili and McCully are, for the most part, populated by very old, two-story walk-up apartment buildings. The Building and Permitting Department can remove the three-story height limitation on these areas and allow us to go vertical. Going vertical will improve the Honolulu skyline, provide fulfillment of the affordable housing need and create housing options for those who work in Waikiki and downtown Honolulu and even provide off-base living options for our military men and women who work at Pearl Harbor, Hickam and Fort Shafter.

With home prices rising and land area diminishing, the dream of a single-family home on a 5,000 square foot piece of land is difficult to achieve. Going vertical will help preserve our precious agricultural lands. We need to emulate European ideas on infrastructure. Their cities are contained, and they leave the rural areas for agriculture. The argument that we can move these Ewa farmlands elsewhere is just as absurd as saying we can move this housing development within urban Honolulu.

These areas I have suggested for development are blighted communities. Why is there not a push to modernize these slummy downtown areas so that we can be proud of our urban core?

Sustainability, self-sufficiency and food security are goals that the Legislature and the state are working toward. Today we import 90 percent of our food. Without our farmlands it would be impossible to reduce our dependency on outside resources or fulfill our goals.

The state tourism count continues to diminish daily. By building houses on the entire island, we will see even fewer tourists coming to Hawaii. Tourists vacation in Hawaii to enjoy tropical scenery and hospitality, not panoramic views of urban sprawl.

The more houses we build, the more out-of-state people will come to Hawaii to purchase homes, driving the cost of homes through the roof. I know that increasing supply will decrease the prices of homes — but, figuratively speaking, only for a day. As soon as the prices become reasonable, residents of the contiguous 48 states will be here driving the prices up again.

We cannot build more housing complexes without sufficient transportation infrastructures in place. Consider the city's light rail project. If they did not build all these houses in Kapolei, then there would have been no need for the rail. Building more, such as Ho'opili, will create more traffic woes and require more infrastructure, not just the rail.

Supporters of Ho'opili contend that it will bring more jobs to the region, thereby decreasing the amount of commuters to town. How many jobs will there be? Can the project bring more than 2,000 jobs to the region? My answer is no, and if there are jobs, the jobs will probably not pay enough to support a mortgage of these new homes.

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Rida Cabanilla is state representative for House District 42 (Waipahu, Honouliuli, West Loch and Ewa).