Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Plan for Mililani housing revised

Meheula Vista will now offer affordable homes for seniors to address community concerns

By Andrew Gomes


An affordable-housing developer has revised a plan to build rental apartments on vacant land zoned for commercial use in Mililani Mauka.

The project known as Meheula Vista was publicized in July as a low-income rental complex with 226 units including some possibly for seniors.

Local developer Gary Furuta has since modified the plan, which now calls for 301 one-bedroom apartments, all of which will be reserved for seniors earning no more than 60 percent of Honolulu's median income.

Furuta, doing business as GSF LLC, also has partnered with an affiliate of Catholic Charities Hawaii to develop the project comprising four buildings each with two- and three-story wings.

The updated plan is scheduled to be presented at the Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood Board meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Mililani Mauka Elementary School cafeteria.

Meheula Vista previously drew objections from some community members who want more commercial services in the neighborhood instead of more residents who would elevate use of already congested roads and schools.

In July eight members of the neighborhood board voted against the affordable-housing plan, and one abstained.

The Mililani Town Association also concurred with concerns raised by project opponents, some of whom formed the group Citizens Against Residential Expansion-Mililani, or CARE-Mililani, to stop the project.

The developer believes the shift to apartments reserved for seniors addresses concerns over traffic and school impacts while satisfying a need for affordable senior housing.

"It should satisfy a lot of the concerns," Furuta said.

Neighborhood board approval is something permitting authorities will consider, but it does not determine whether a project is authorized.

Dean Hazama, a nearly 15-year Mililani Mauka resident and area neighborhood board chairman, said the plan revision might be an acceptable compromise for some, though he is not sure whether the change will sway the board or the most vocal critics of the plan.

"I think the presentation will provide a lot more details," Hazama said. "We'll look at what's best for the community."

Still, some project opponents have started a petition, and plan to argue against the revised plan at Tuesday's meeting and insist on commercial use of the site as originally envisioned by Castle & Cooke Homes, the developer of the master-planned community.

Some opponents also feel that Castle & Cooke reneged on a pledge to donate three acres of the 7.5-acre site for a performing arts center.

"That was what was promised," said Jicky Ferrer, a Mililani-Mauka resident since 1994. "We want to hold the developer to that commitment."

Ferrer said building senior housing is estimable, but it was a performing arts center and commercial services -- not senior housing -- that were touted as amenities for the community when he and other residents bought their homes.

Castle & Cooke built a self-storage facility on an adjacent parcel a few years ago but said the vacant 7.5-acre site does not appeal to commercial users.

Castle & Cooke also has said it agreed to sell the site to Furuta only after the nonprofit Oahu Arts Center failed to meet a deadline to demonstrate it had financial means to build and operate the center.

Organizers of the arts center contend that they met the deadline and that Castle & Cooke hindered their fundraising efforts by not executing an agreement to donate the land.

Under state regulations promoting affordable housing, Furuta would be exempt from the commercial zoning limitation.

Furuta has approval from the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., a state agency that facilitates affordable-housing development, for a $9.7 million loan to buy the land and pay for project design work.

The developer plans to seek additional financing from the agency and other government sources in return for keeping the project affordable for more than 60 years.

Rents for the one-bedroom units including utilities would be no more than $1,118 a month for seniors with annual incomes no more than $47,700 for a couple or $41,760 for a single person.

If planning work, including an environmental assessment, proceeds smoothly, Furuta anticipates being able to break ground early next year and finish construction in 2012.

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