Koa Ridge project would replace large-scale agriculture
The Honolulu City Council passed a bill on first reading Wednesday that rezones 576 acres of farmland on the Central Oahu plateau for the controversial Koa Ridge development by Castle and Cooke.
Although it's customary for council members to pass bills on first reading, Bruce Barrett, the executive vice president of residential operations for Castle and Cooke, welcomed the news.
"Were pleased by the action taken by the county today," said Barrett. "The land use process is a lengthy one, and this gets us one step closer to making Koa Ridge a reality."
Talked about since the mid-1990s, Koa Ridge draws as much criticism as it does support. During public testimony on the rezoning bill (Bill 48) at Leeward Community College, detractors focused on the paving over of farmland and the increase in traffic on the H2 Freeway, while supporters highlighted the need for jobs and more than 1,000 units of affordable housing.
"Koa Ridge is expected to create 1,000 direct construction jobs and 1,600 indirect jobs, in addition to retail on the site, once it's built out," said Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, executive director of the Hawaii Construction Alliance.
However, Sierra Club Hawaii Director Robert Harris believes Oahu needs more rental and affordable housing units, not the single- and multi-family homes that will be the mainstay of Koa Ridge. Harris is also concerned about the already bustling H2, which in 2020 is predicted to have an "F" in terms of level of service, which is considered gridlock.
"If this project goes forward, it's going to take roughly two hours to drive from Mililani to Ala Moana," Harris told KITV4. "That's 17 miles one way it's going to take two hours to go."
Still, Castle and Cooke believes traffic concerns along the H2 and Ka Uka Boulevard can be mitigated, and has committed more than $100 million toward that goal.
"We feel that we're doing quite a bit to improve traffic conditions with major interchange improvements and Ka Uka improvements," said Barrett. In addition to traffic mitigation, Koa Ridge will feature 50 acres of commercial space, 32 acres of parks, a new elementary school and a medical center. The development has already won approval from the city's Planning Commission and the state Land Use Commission, which attached 30 conditions to the project.
The Sierra Club has already mounted several vigorous court challenges against Koa Ridge, which has resulted in the project being delayed. Harris says the latest challenge focuses on Article XI, Section 3 of the Hawaii Constitution, which says the state must preserve important agricultural lands.
Aloun Farms is currently leasing land from Castle and Cooke that’s needed for Koa Ridge to Aloun Farms. However, the developer Cooke has provided 335 acres of farmland near Dole Plantation to Aloun, and the farm operation is expected to complete its move in the next 12 to 24 months.
The zoning change needed for Koa Ridge now heads to the City Council's Zoning Committee, which is chaired by Ikaika Anderson. Anderson said he has not made up his mind about the development, but made the point that Koa Ridge falls within the Oahu General Plan for planned growth.
"The Oahu General Plan that has been in existence for years now says future growth primarily will take place in Central Oahu and Leeward Oahu. If we're going to deviate from that, then we really need to revisit the Oahu General Plan," said Anderson. "I don't think we're ready to do that at this point."
The General Plan is supposed to be updated every five years, but the last time that occurred was in 2002. Critics of Koa Ridge say the plan is outdated and needs to be revised.
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