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Forest City wins bid to develop Kakaako high-rise

Published On: Dec 14 2012 07:43:17 AM HST

Pohukaina would provide affordable rentals to working families.

Kakaako, Hawaii -

A new 650-foot high-rise in the heart of Kakaako will be developed as an all-rental apartment building under a proposal selected Thursday by the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

Known as 690 Pohukaina, the development could become the tallest building in the Hawaii through a 65-year lease agreement with the state.  Ohio-based Forest City beat out Lend Lease from Australia in a scoring system that judged qualifications, concept and design, business plan and financing, and benefits to the state.  Forest City received an overall score of 480 points, while Lend Lease tallied 461.

"We're very excited to bring rental housing to Hawaii, and to do that on lease-hold land," said Jon Wallenstrom, president of Forest City Hawaii.  "I guess what clinched it for us is perhaps the needs of the market."

The project envisions 804 rental units, with 390 of them set aside for residents with incomes up to 120 percent of Honolulu's median income. Another 390 units will be available at the county's market rate for reserved housing, which now stands at 140 percent of median income.  Finally, 24 luxury units on the upper floors will feature larger floor plans in addition to higher rents.

Supporters of the project testified before the HCDA board about the tremendous need for work-force housing on Oahu.

"Our skilled, degreed and advanced degreed people are leaving continuously," said Charles Wathen, executive director of the Hawaii Housing Alliance.  "We need a place for them to rent, and to feel comfortable."  

However, a group of five state and city lawmakers wrote a letter to the HCDA board requesting a delay in the selection of the building's developer. They highlighted concerns that community members have not had the opportunity to testify about the proposed development.

"Often times with other projects, we have had community meetings or community hearings in the evening to allow those who might be working during the day, or businesses who are unable to close, an opportunity to participate," Honolulu City Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga told board members.

The project must still go through an environmental impact statement, as well as rule changes that would allow an exemption of the current 400-foot limit on Kakaako buildings.

HCDA Executive Director Tony Ching said there would be plenty of opportunities to engage the public in dialogue as the agency guides the project past all of the necessary legal and government hurdles, which he estimated will take 18 months.

Still, some are concerned the 650-foot tower will change the look and feel of Kakaako, and lead to a slippery slope of even more extra-tall high-rises on Oahu and throughout the state.

"We have to develop rules to make sure the project fits the community, not that the community fits the project," said Dexter Okada, a Kakaako business owner and former HCDA board member.

Lend Lease had proposed two towers with 1,002 units, more than half of which would have been sold as fee-simple apartments to those earning up 140 percent of the median income.  

Forest City's proposal also contains a twin-tower concept that could still be chosen over a single 650-foot structure.

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