A man who is seen as a top-gun in transit-oriented development has been hired by the city to help build momentum for a program that has been slow to get off the ground.
“There was frustration on my part,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell, when asked about the pace of TOD. “Enough talking already, let's start planning and then let's start implementing.”
Harrison Rue will begin working as administrator for the city’s Transit-Oriented Development Program Sept. 1. Rue is currently a principal with ICF International, a Virginia-based consulting firm. He served previously as vice president of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and spent three terms on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology. Rue has also worked for a variety of public and private sector clients in Hawaii.
“My wife and I consider ourselves blessed to come home,” Harrison said Thursday in a news conference with the mayor. “I'm basically a neighborhood guy at my heart,” he added. “We basically use transit as an excuse to make great neighborhoods.”
Rue’s contract will run from Sept. 1 through June 30, 2014 at a cost of $10,400 per month. He comes on board even as the future of the city’s $5.3 billion rail project remains in limbo.
On Aug. 15, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is scheduled to hold a hearing that could determine if the city must redo the rail project’s environmental impact statement from scratch. Such a ruling could delay construction of the 20-mile long elevated rail line for years. However, Caldwell remains optimistic the city will prevail, especially after federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima dismissed 20 of 23 claims asserted by rail opponents in November of last year.
“We have to continue moving forward,” said the mayor. “I look to the case before the federal court up to this point as a victory.”
The city says it has received some interest in TOD planning at the Ala Moana Shopping Center and the old Kam Drive-In site in Aiea. However, planning and permitting Director George Atta told KITV4 those areas will likely be developed with or without rail.
“What the rail does, it enhances the project, but it's not the thing that would tip the scale as to go or no go,” said Atta. “I think most (developers) have plans to go on the assumption that rail will happen in spite of the court case, and they want to make sure that if they're close to a station, that they integrate properly.”
To help spur interest in transit-oriented development, the city is developing TOD zones around the rail project’s 21 stations. The zones will be divided into four categories: major urban, urban neighborhood, mixed use village and major destination or employment center. Currently, the City Council is contemplating the approval of two such zones in Waipahu.
“We need to actually drop a zone down around a station,” said Caldwell. “That tells the private sector and non-government organizations that these are the kind of things you can do in this zone, and here are the types of incentives that you're going to see, and here's the type of infrastructure improvements you're going to see.”
With the cost of county government exploding with new public worker contracts and other built-in costs, the city is under tremendous pressure to increase revenue. Atta says one way to relieve that pressure is to build vertical, walkable communities, regardless of what happens with mass transit.
“People are interested in buying urban vertical living units,” said Atta. “That movement is growing in spite of rail.”