350-foot YMCA tower would include 128 condo units

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Jun 12 2013 07:34:38 PM HST
Updated On: Jun 12 2013 10:37:27 PM HST

New developments on the packed meeting about a possible high-rise on YMCA property.  It's the Central YMCA on Atkinson Drive and a lot of neighbors in the area want answers.

HONOLULU -

Developers want to re-zone the property at 841 Atkinson Dr. where the Central YMCA sits, so they can build a 350-foot condominium tower.

They told a packed room at a Wednesday Planning Commission meeting that a taller, slimmer tower would mean a smaller footprint, but more units.

In addition, developers would tear-down and rebuild the YMCA, this time with three stories, 30,000 square feet of space and other amenities. The YMCA partnered with Aloha Kai Development, LCC since it lacked the resources to erect a new building on its own. 

"This development allows the YMCA to one, get a new building, and two, remain in this neighborhood, which is our primary objective," said YMCA Executive Vice President and COO Michael Doss.

The 350-foot tower would be 39-floors and feature 128 apartments and 266 parking stalls. Aloha Kai would also be required to offer 42 affordable housing units at an off site location.

"We're looking actually at a rental building that would be really truly affordable," said John Whalen, owner of PlanPacific Inc., which is assisting Aloha Kai with the rezoning effort. "So we're not talking about marginally affordable, but something that reaches people who would otherwise not be able to afford any other kind of housing."

YMCA members were thrilled with the plan, but others in the area said it would make an already congested traffic area even worse. Detractors are also worried what a 350-foot tower would do to existing view planes.

"I'm sitting on my lanai looking at my beautiful view and realizing that I'm going to have a two-year demolition and construction project in my lap," said Ian Washburn, who lives at nearby Atkinson Plaza. "When it's finished (and) when the dust settles, I won't be able to have the view that I enjoy, and I'll have added traffic (and) added people on the sidewalk."

Many condo owners who live near the YMCA testified they were never notified about redevelopment plans, but Whalen said the developer did what was required. 

"We did follow the steps that the LUO, the land use ordinance, requires for notification," said Whalen. "The Department of Planning and Permitting decided that we had followed that."

Some members of the Planning Commission were concerned about iwi kupuna in the area, reporting that 10-percent of the land up for redevelopment is undisturbed and with a high probability of buried Hawaiian remains.

The YMCA's fallback plan is to follow the area's existing zoning, and construct a building that's 150-feet high, but with a wider footprint.  The smaller 17-story tower would feature 120 apartments and 228 parking stalls, but no affordable units would be required.

Aloha Kai says the smaller tower would be built only 45-feet from the nearest building, but the taller version would sit at least 120-feet from the closest structure. 

"It happens that the taller, slimmer tower is also better at protecting views from some of the immediate neighboring buildings," said Whalen. " I think maybe that was not well understood by many of the unit owners (at the meeting)."

After about two hours of testimony, commissioners voted  5-0 to approve the plan, but with some conditions.

Developers must include an archeological survey, a traffic plan, and two more meetings with community members were recommended before the plan can go before the Honolulu City Council.

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