Issues over sewer line hookups have delayed a Manoa care home project
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 3, 2012
A company trying to expand its residential senior care home business in Manoa has sued the city in federal court over problems connecting to sewer lines.
An affiliate of Manoa Senior Care filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Honolulu on Wednesday in an attempt to force the Department of Planning and Permitting to allow a planned four-home project to hook up to sewer lines about a year after the city allowed foundations for the homes to be built.
The company also claims in the suit that the city’s actions constitute housing discrimination against seniors, and that it suspects opposition by neighbors has influenced city decisions holding up the project.
“It appears that the (city) and/or its constituents do not want this type of facility in Manoa,” the Manoa Senior Care affiliate, Huapala Senior Care E LLC, said in the suit.
The city declined to comment because the matter involves pending litigation, according to spokesman Jim Fulton.
Inadequate sewer capacity for new development has been an issue for the city struggling with aging infrastructure. In Waikiki, developers are contributing millions of dollars toward upgrades to allow development, and from Halawa to Pearl City, projects that increased sewer usage were prohibited for four months this year.
In Manoa, sewer capacity issues are difficult to make sense of, from what the lawsuit says.
Senior Care claims the city has been vague about capacity issues, at one point last month suggesting there was a moratorium against new sewer connections in the area but then later saying some connections were still being permitted.
The senior care company initially explored developing residential care homes on a 1.2-acre property roughly in the middle of Manoa next to Koganji Temple in mid-2011.
Development consultants determined the proposed project was permissable if it met standard city requirements that include connecting each home to the sewer system.
The city notified the developer of a sewer capacity issue about a quarter-mile away from the property, according to the lawsuit. To address the issue, civil engineering firm Hida Okamoto & Associates Inc. retained by the developer proposed bypassing the problem area with a new line at the developer’s expense.
That bypass plan was approved in August 2011 with conditions that included submitting a new connection application and construction plans, the suit said.
Senior Care completed its purchase of the property for $3.35 million in November 2011 and received city permits to begin building foundations for four homes in December. The company said it spent $300,000 on the foundations.
But then in March, the suit said, the city Department of Environmental Services expressed concerns, saying in an email that “there are defects in the downstream sewer lines and diverting more flows may cause additional problems.” The city told the developer its sewer connection plan had to be revised.
A second diversion plan was proposed in April and again received conditional approval, according to the suit; however, this plan required consent of another private property owner, who refused to cooperate.
A third alternative involved installing a holding tank that would release sewage during off-peak hours.
The tank proposal was similar to one explored by another developer whose plans for an assisted-living rental building with about 134 units in Aiea was held up by sewer capacity issues earlier this year.
The city in April declared a moratorium against any sewer connections that increased sewage volume between Halawa and Pearl City, but it was lifted in July after the city said it could install valves to send sewage to different pump stations and avoid risking spills at the Pearl City station that was at full capacity.
Senior Care said in its suit that city rules permit a holding tank system where a sewer system is inadequate but that the city rejected the plan in July because there were at least five “trouble calls” in the vicinity of the line dating back to 2003.
The developer disputes the city’s claims of sewer limitations, which it calls vague. “There is no inadequacy in the sewer system, and even if there were an inadequacy during peak flow hours, Senior Care has provided a holding tank proposal to address such an inadequacy.”
Senior Care contends that the city’s failure to reasonably accommodate the project constitutes discrimination against seniors under federal fair housing laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The company also contends that neighboring residents complained to the city about the adult care home plan around the time the Environmental Services Department expressed concerns with the company’s initial sewer relief plan in March, and that the complaints motivated city decisions rejecting sewer connections.
Malia Boyd, director of marketing for Senior Care, said the company successfully operates care homes in Manoa and Kaimuki that blend with their residential neighborhoods, and that seniors need more opportunities to live out their lives in their neighborhoods.
Paul Dold established Senior Care in 1994 with one home in Manoa. Today the company has four homes in Manoa and three in Kaimuki, housing 56 residents and employing 70 people.
The expansion in Manoa would add four more homes, each housing eight residents, or 32 residents total plus a staff of eight on the property.
An existing home on the site built in 1926 and designed by Charles Dickey would not be used as a care home. Senior Care said the land is big enough for seven single-family homes under city zoning rules. The company initially proposed developing six homes but scaled back its plan before it completed its purchase.