Housing plan for Kapolei site makes sense

Housing plan for Kapolei site makes sense

“With monthly rents to range from $503 to $1,294, depending on the size of the apartment and the income of the resident, this development would provide needed housing for a growing segment of Hawaii’s population: senior citizens on fixed incomes. At or near retirement age, these folks would be far less likely to be joining the stressed-out, rush-hour motorists clogging west side roads headed to and from work in Honolulu.”

(2015, June 15) 

A scaled-back plan to build housing on land now zoned for business use in downtown Kapolei improves on the original design, by cutting the number of residential towers from four to two while preserving affordable rental units for senior citizens.

The Kulana Hale II at Kapolei project is in an early stage, with developer Coastal Rim Properties Inc. having yet to formally acquire the vacant 3-acre site, and critics who were concerned about the initial blueprint should feel reassured.

The earlier proposal understandably generated opposition because it emphasized market-rate housing on a block zoned for business and which needs commercial activity to provide jobs lacking in what is supposed to be Oahu’s Second City — and not a distant suburb from which residents commute to and from work in Honolulu.

According to a draft environmental assessment published by the state, the much preferable revised plan halves the number of proposed residential units from roughly 600 to about 300, with the initial construction projected to be a 13-story tower filled with 154 rental units reserved for lower-income senior citizens.

With monthly rents to range from $503 to $1,294, depending on the size of the apartment and the income of the resident, this development would provide needed housing for a growing segment of Hawaii’s population: senior citizens on fixed incomes. At or near retirement age, these folks would be far less likely to be joining the stressed-out, rush-hour motorists clogging west side roads headed to and from work in Honolulu.

The block-long site at 1020 Wakea St. is relatively close to grocery stores and other retail outlets, health care facilities and parks, easy access that is essential if seniors are to “age in place” — an important societal goal — and which increases the likelihood that future residents would limit most of their driving to short neighborhood trips.

The original design’s potential impact on already congested freeway traffic was a point of contention, one eased by the downsized scope and refined focus on senior living.

Initially, two residential towers were proposed for market-rate condominiums, one for senior rentals and one for condos for moderate-income buyers; each of the four buildings would have contained about 150 units.

The two towers comprising the revised plan retain the full count of senior rentals — 154 units — while halving the number of condos for sale.

Of the 143 condominiums for sale proposed for the second tower, 72 would be reserved for households earning no more than 140 percent of the median income, or $134,120 for a family of four. This is a necessary addition to Oahu’s affordable housing stock, even if the prospective owners are more likely to be of working age and therefore contributing to freeway traffic.

The senior housing would be built first, followed by the condo tower and then a single-story retail building that would round out ground-floor retail space in the two towers and provide some local employment.

The whole complex, though, would create less than a fifth of the permanent jobs likely if a commercial developer wanted to build an office building, say, under the site’s current community-business zoning. That’s what it really gets down to: Should this vacant lot remain zoned for future commercial use or be rezoned so that residential mid-rises can sprout in downtown Kapolei?

There are plenty of other suitable sites available nearby for business use. Coastal Rim cites six other blocks that could accommodate 24 commercial towers, for example. Its revised development plan for Kulana Hale II, which would provide much-needed rentals for lower-income senior citizens, seems a reasonable rezoning request that incorporates community feedback to overcome the initial plan’s main flaws.

If the region is to reach its potential as Oahu’s vibrant Second City, it needs a full range of housing, employment and recreational options. This project would diversify downtown Kapolei and increase its appeal as a place to live, work, play — and age.