Hearings on Koa Ridge begin
by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
The first day of a state hearing on Castle & Cooke Homes Hawai'i Inc.'s planned Koa Ridge community between Mililani and Waipi'o drew public testimony that was mostly in favor of the project.
The state Land Use Commission yesterday began a public hearing to consider whether 768 acres owned by the company and previously used to grow pineapple should be converted from agriculture to urban use.
Koa Ridge is designed to be a master-planned community with 5,000 homes, a 28-acre medical campus, 150-room hotel, parks, two elementary schools, and nearly 500,000 square feet of commercial space for retail, offices and light industrial businesses.
Castle & Cooke, which developed Mililani, would like to begin work on the estimated $2.2 billion project next year and begin to deliver homes in 2012, but will need LUC approval as well as a zoning change from the City Council for the project, which would contain one-third the number of current homes in Mililani on one-quarter the land area.
The hearing before the nine-member commission will be spread over several months, allowing extensive testimony from Castle & Cooke, the city Department of Planning and Permitting, the state Office of Planning, the Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter and the Mililani/Waipi'o/Malemanu Neighborhood Board.
The LUC began yesterday's hearing with an opportunity for the general public to testify, and the turnout was light.
Sixteen people testified in support of the project, including several construction industry leaders and representatives of Wahiawa General Hospital and parent Wahiawa Hospital Association, which is slated to develop the medical campus planned for Koa Ridge.
Wahiawa Hospital employees and board members said a new facility will enhance care for Central O'ahu residents, and will help attract new physicians who tend to avoid rural Wahiawa Hospital because of its outdated facilities.
A few Mililani residents also testified in favor of the project, saying that new affordable homes in a well-planned community will provide opportunities for families to realize dreams of homeownership much like Mililani did for them.
"A lot of dreams have come true for a lot of residents," said Lance Yoshimura, who moved to Mililani Mauka 17 years ago and said he'd like his son to have the same opportunity in a community such as Koa Ridge.
On Tuesday, the Mililani Mauka/Laulani Valley Nei-ghborhood Board voted 5-2 to support the project.
However, the Mililani /Waipi'o/Malemanu Neighborhood Board is participating in the hearing through chairman Richard Poirier, who has raised some concerns about the project.
Two Mililani residents yesterday also expressed concerns about increased traffic and the loss of farmland. Nicholas Striebich, who has lived in Mililani since 1971, said that he put up with bad traffic after moving in because transportation infrastructure trailed home construction. He asked the commission to require concurrent development of traffic improvements and homes for Koa Ridge.
Only one person testifying yesterday, Mililani resident Ann Freed, opposed the project. She said she liked its medical care component and the notion that it would be a walkable community, but said the loss of farmland and addition of cars outweighed the benefits.
"I think we're going to end up with another bedroom community," she said.
Castle & Cooke, which began presenting its case to the commission after the public testimony, said the site is appropriate for urban use because it's within the city's urban growth boundary and is adjacent to the urban communities of Waipi'o and Mililani as well as 3,700 acres owned by Kamehameha Schools, which have been approved for urban use.
The project, designed with mostly multi-family units, also will create affordable housing. It's anticipated that the city will require that at least 30 percent of Koa Ridge housing, or 1,500 homes, be affordable to families earning from less than 80 percent to 120 percent of Honolulu's median income.
Castle & Cooke officials said they aim to minimize the impact on commuting in and out of Koa Ridge by balancing the creation of jobs and homes. They said there will be 2,500 jobs in the community, providing two jobs for every three homes.
The developer also said it plans to spend $50 million on traffic improvements, including new freeway interchange connections at Ka Uka Boulevard. A direct connection linking H-2 to a park-and-ride rail station at Pearl Highlands is also planned as part of the city's rail project.
Koa Ridge will result in the loss of prime farmland, though Castle & Cooke officials said there is sufficient fallow farmland available to supply nearly all the consumption needs of the state if it weren't for other economic challenges to farming.
About 325 acres of the Koa Ridge property is leased by Aloun Farms to raise vegetables and seed corn. Castle & Cooke has arranged for Aloun to relocate to 335 acres of fallow land in Wahiawā suitable to continue operations.
The developer also said the cattle ranch Flying R Livestock Co., which leases almost 200 acres, will be relocated on adjacent land.
Castle & Cooke officials are expected to continue testifying before the commission today.
Other interested parties are slated to testify at later hearing dates. There also will be more opportunities for public testimony at those hearings.
After today's hearing, the next tentative hearing dates are Feb. 18 and 19.
Castle & Cooke has been trying to build the Koa Ridge development since the mid-1990s.
Prior versions of Koa Ridge had a retirement community focus, and called for up to 7,500 homes on 1,248 acres. One plan was approved by the LUC in 2002, but the timing of an environmental assessment was challenged by the Sierra Club, and the project was derailed.
Castle & Cooke comple-ted the present version of the Koa Ridge environmental impact statement in June.
The developer plans to build the project in two phases, one called Koa Ridge Makai with 3,500 homes it believes it can finish by 2020.
Timing for a second phase, called Castle & Cooke Waiawa, with 1,500 homes, is uncertain because it relies on road and sewer infrastructure to be built by a neighboring project called Waiawa Ridge.
An affiliate of Gentry Homes had planned to develop Waiawa Ridge, but last year lost its right to develop the 3,700-acre property owned by Kamehameha Schools.