The controversy over a new study analyzing the best site to build new apartments for university professors spilled over into a legislative hearing Wednesday.
Lawmakers at a joint Agriculture and Business House Committee hearing passed a resolution urging the University of Hawaii to support the agricultural use of the land over housing.
“I am perplexed here,” said Rep. Angus McKelvey.
Scott Lukas works at the agricultural facility which is located just a stone’s throw from the UH Manoa campus. There is research under way that covers everything from aquaponics, aquaculture, to native plants. So the news that the parcel is one of two sites being eyed for faculty housing was a shocker.
“We were really surprised especially when they just put $4 million into the renovations of these greenhouses,” said Scott Lukas.
The College of Tropical Agriculture provides research to support local agriculture, everything from floriculture like anthuriums and orchids,-- to papaya production, to landscaping.
"These industries bring in millions to the state. Faculty housing, on the other hand can be built anywhere on Oahu, and there are other strategies to support housing for faculty like low interest loans or morgage assistance," said Sylvia Yuen, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Human Resources.
University housing is one way to attract professors and researchers. It has been an issue for the past 30 years. Currently there are 230 units in Manoa valley set aside for UH professors and employees. But, some say the housing policy needs to be overhauled.
"When I was there, you could stay there for one year. until you found housing. It was transitional housing. Then, it went to three years, and it got changed again, and now it is indefinate," said retired professor Barry Brennan.
At Wednesday’s hearing, there was also some concern expressed by Rep. Cynthia Evans about getting involved in what some see as an internal university matter.
University officials said a feasibility study on the two sides is currently underway. A previous study looked at four sites, including Leahi Hospital, and a vacant site on Dole Street near Wa'ahila ridge.