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McCully condo plan raises concerns

Requested variances are "out of character" with the community, some residents say

By Andrew Gomes

LAST UPDATED: 09:04 p.m. HST, Apr 10, 2014

A developer is seeking permission to build a moderate-priced condominium tower in the McCully area to address Oahu's need for affordable housing, though the height and density of the project isn't going over well with some neighborhood residents.

The condo called 'Ohana Hale would be 21 stories with 180 mostly studio and one-bedroom units expected to sell for between about $250,000 and $440,000, according to a draft environmental assessment for the planned tower published this week.

Most of the units would be restricted to buyers earning no more than 120 percent of Honolulu's median annual income, which equates to about $80,000 for a single person or $92,000 for a couple.

Project developer Franco Mola of MJFDevelopment Corp. said in the environmental assessment that 'Ohana Hale has the potential to be a good example of urban infill development providing moderate-priced homes within walking distance to schools, grocery stores, parks and other retail and recreation facilities.

"Most of the recent residential condominium developments in urban Honolulu are in the luxury price range,"the developer said in the assessment. "'Ohana Hale provides more affordable and modest-sized market-rate units to fill the void that is ever-increasing in the urban Honolulu housing market."

However, the McCully-Moiliili Neighborhood Board objected to several variances being sought by Mola for the project, which is on a block bordered by McCully and South King streets where low-rise residential and commercial buildings are the norm.

"It's definitely out of character with the neighborhood,"said Ron Lockwood, neighborhood board chairman. "Everything around it is three-story walk-ups."

The property, which Mola bought last year for $2.6 million, is occupied by a single-family house, a triplex and a two-story apartment building with 14 units.

The building height limit for the area is 150 feet, though Mola is seeking approval for 'Ohana Hale to rise 189 feet and be twice as dense as permitted under county zoning rules.

Mola is seeking the variances and other exemptions that include not paying several county fees totaling about $3 million and not setting the building back from some property lines.

The developer said in the assessment that the exemptions help reduce development costs and unit prices, and that the additional building height would have a "minimal visual impact" toward the Koolau mountains and Diamond Head.

Neighborhood board member Ronald Neff noted during the February meeting that the developer could pursue higher-priced homes with no variances, and suggested that it would be better for the board to support affordable housing, according to meeting minutes.

The board, however, voted 10-1 to support the project without zoning variances. That vote followeda motion to support the project as proposed, which failed with only four affirmative votes.

The board's position does not prevent the developer from moving forward, though it is taken into account by the City Council, which decides whether to approve variance requests.

Mola has applied to develop 'Ohana Hale under state affordable-housing law that allows certain exemptions to state and county requirements for qualified moderate-priced housing projects.

Condo towers built under the law in recent years include Holomua, which rose 70 feet above a 150-foot limit in Pawaa, and Plantation Town Apartments, which rose 45 feet above a 60-foot height limit in Waipahu.

The law requires that at least 51 percent of units in a qualified project be affordable to people earning no more than 140 percent of the median income.

Mola's project proposes providing 60 percent of units under a lower cap, with 86 units affordable to people earning no more than 120 percent of the median income and 22 units affordable to people earning no more than 100 percent of the median income.

Most of those qualified units would be studios with 335 to 387 square feet of living space. Some one-bedroom units with 454 to 498 square feet also would qualify.

Five two-bedroom units with 986 square feet to 1,082 square feet are also part of the project and could be priced between roughly $640,000 and $700,000, according to the assessment.

Monthly maintenance fees are projected to range from $168 to $249 on the studio and one-bedroom units, while parking stalls would cost $75 a month.

Under the affordable-housing law, the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., a state agency facilitating affordable-housing production, is entitled to share any appreciation in a qualified condo sold by the initial buyer and has the first option to purchase a unit resold within 10 years.

If Mola obtains all necessary approvals, construction is projected to start in February and finish two years later.

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what wrote:
This is not a luxury development. The luxury developments in Waikiki and Kakaako got permission to break many rules, this one should too.
on April 10,2014 | 02:06AM
dsl wrote:
Exception to the rules becomes the rule...why make em if they're not gonna be enforced? Oh, they're just guidelines? no wonder there's no rhyme or reason to development on Oahu - developers do what they want with some extra lubrication...
on April 10,2014 | 12:24PM
clum56 wrote:
Why charge extra for monthly parking, that's obsured. The cost of parking should be included somehow in the monthly maintence fees.
on April 10,2014 | 04:55AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
If it's in the maintenance fee then you pay whether you own a car or not. Part of what makes this affordable is the low maintenance fee.
on April 10,2014 | 05:33AM
localguy wrote:
BB - You do understand this is just the initial maintenance fee. It will go up yearly to cover building maintenance costs, pay for building employees, an endless spiral increase. Not long the average MF will be $400 a month. Especially if the building is not set up for water sub metering. Water hogs will jack up the price for everyone.
on April 10,2014 | 07:31AM
Rapanui00 wrote:
well said local guy but what do you expect from a PRP and HART paid troll -
on April 10,2014 | 07:48AM
localguy wrote:
powersohana - I never said there would not be electrical sub metering, this is usually standard to ensure energy hogs pay their fair share. Sub metering for electrical and water should be a Nei code requirement to help keep maintenance fees down. Of course energy and water hogs hate it.
on April 10,2014 | 01:36PM
powersohana wrote:
How do you know that they are not going to do water AND electric sub metering?
on April 10,2014 | 09:22AM
localguy wrote:
Not long ago I called the BWS to see if they had any rebate programs if my townhouse association wanted to change. The BWS person I talked to started laughing. Sub metering he said is great idea but BWS hasn't got a clue about it like mainland water utilities. He admitted they were way behind the mainland. Submetering works great, saves water, each person pays their fair share. Problem is it costs extra, most greedy developers want the lowest cost build, more profit for them. State could have made it a code requirement a decade or more ago. Sad to say our dysfunctional elected bureaucrats also didn't have a clue. Standard for the Nei.
on April 10,2014 | 01:33PM
localguy wrote:
Project developer Franco Mola of MJFDevelopment Corp is just following the lead of greedy Hawaiian Airlines, nickle and dime charges for everything. Expect parking to go up to over $100 per month in no time. No large, open on street parking available so where would you go? Residents know people would use the street spaces available, clogging them up.
on April 10,2014 | 07:23AM
nitrobreath wrote:
Airlines charge for every little addition service these days because those are not taxed like airplane miles are. Therefore the Airlines reduce their taxable income by charging for extras.
on April 10,2014 | 01:56PM
BluesBreaker wrote:
Character of the neighborhood? This building will improve the character of the run-down McCully neighborhood. It's not exactly oozing with quaint charm in its present state.
on April 10,2014 | 05:35AM
localguy wrote:
BB - Run down rail will not improve the character of neighborhoods either, allowing the homeless to load their shopping carts on and travel anywhere along the route. So what is the difference? McCully residents have a right to say what goes in their area. Developer can't meet their standards, too bad.
on April 10,2014 | 07:35AM
HiNaihe808 wrote:
Build, build as fast as you can, You can't catch them, they're the developer's men!
on April 10,2014 | 06:15AM
boshio wrote:
With this project, everyone gets what they want. The developer gets his profits, the city gets added income with the PT, 180 affordable housing, living and working closer to home, and most of all……….we all will need to contend with more traffic in this small area. Note, McCully St to the freeway is already a joke. Many times the traffic does not even move due to cars coming from Waikiki. Why is it that there always are no requirements by developers to also improve traffic movement? Go ask Caldwell.
on April 10,2014 | 06:48AM
Mike174 wrote:
335 to 387 sq ft is pretty small...for that family of 5...
on April 10,2014 | 07:09AM
localguy wrote:
Building height limit laws are there for a reason. Why does every greedy clueless developer think they can come in, give our bureaucrats $1 each and they get an exemption? If they want an exemption, let them pay the real cost, bill them the cost of the development and watch them go running home. Maintenance fees will go up to around $500 a month in just a short time. Developers always lowball this area, then start jacking it up after sucking in people to buy their over priced units. Standard practice. Slap this project down fast, not going to go.
on April 10,2014 | 07:21AM
egghead wrote:
I do not believe any variances should be given. Height & density limits were established for a reason. If this type of development is needed, then change the laws to allow it. Don't just give special treatment to select developers.
on April 10,2014 | 07:33AM
PMINZ wrote:
Ahh just grease the palms of the right people and one can get what they want, legal or illegal!, It does not matter that thousands of people put out hours and money to get the existing Laws in place. This would be an Oasis in the middle of a Surrounding dump.
on April 10,2014 | 08:06AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
People gripe about the lack of housing options and prices for locals but when a project comes up that offers a good deal, they try to stop it.

This area of town is ripe for development - i'ts such a dump with all those horrid 2 and 3 story walk-up units, cinder block with linoleum floor places, holes in the roofs and decrepit plumbing and electrical.

on April 10,2014 | 08:34AM
PMINZ wrote:
Yes Build NEW - But do it within LEGAL limits, lets replace them all.
on April 10,2014 | 08:48AM
powersohana wrote:
You can't build new, within the limits AND keep it affordable. That's the simple math. If you want affordable, new places to live then variances must be given so that the developers can build it. It's a fact.
on April 10,2014 | 09:19AM
PMINZ wrote:
on April 10,2014 | 09:31AM
localguy wrote:
Pure shibai. Developers just want a bigger kickback for themselves, could care less about anyone else.
on April 10,2014 | 01:38PM
control wrote:
This is just the start, do you want McCully to be lined with all high rises? Are you a shill for the developers?
on April 10,2014 | 11:44AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
No shill here. But that area as well the corridor on Kapiolani between say McCully and Date are really dismal areas of town and need urban renewal. So it makes sense to go vertical and try to keep a lid on prices while increasing the number of units. I would emphasize rentals instead of condos in the area but any improvement would be welcome. I'd also extract contributions from developers to create a pool of money for sustainable funding of neighborhood improvements, not one time payments.

But, really, that area is a dump and could benefit from revitalization. Ultimately the metro area will be much denser than now and we might as well plan for it.

on April 10,2014 | 12:04PM
control wrote:
Is Kaimuki any different? Kalihi? You start in one area and move on to the next area to ruin?
on April 10,2014 | 12:22PM
localguy wrote:
If you are talking serious urban renewal, then you are talking about 75% of the island with homes similar to your description. Not going to happen. Ewa plain, Wahiawa, Kahuku and Makaha are some areas in need of urban renewal too.
on April 10,2014 | 01:42PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Nope. Ewa Plain, Wahiawa, Kahuku and Makaha are all outside the metro urban core.
on April 10,2014 | 05:26PM
rytsuru wrote:
I am still wondering who is buying all of these units in the high rises that are going up all over the place...
on April 10,2014 | 09:01AM
false wrote:
Local investors looking to rent out or flip.
on April 10,2014 | 10:09AM
control wrote:
Correct, while they say the units are for locals, like Kakaako they are basically for the investors who can afford it and rent it out. Many local families can't afford $600k to $700k condos, $400k is pushing it for a small condo for a family. If they really want to make it for locals all the units should be affordable in an affordable price range.
on April 10,2014 | 11:49AM
HealthyandHappy wrote:
Mainlanders who are trying to escape the Radiation from Fukushima.
on April 10,2014 | 11:12AM
GoldenRule wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on April 10,2014 | 09:02AM
inverse wrote:
They could not afford purchasing outright or paying the rent for this new condo, calling it "affordable" is a joke. If the kids parents can afford to pay for their kids rent or purchase this new condo outright for them, they would be smart and rich enough to send their kids to a mainland university.
on April 10,2014 | 03:51PM
control wrote:
We know what's going on. The developers know that the gov supports development and so they want to expand from kakaako to other neighborhoods before this gov is out. The next gov might not be so developer friendly. What's next...Makikiki? Kaimuki? Our legislators and council people should put their foot down, our ordinances and laws and set backs were created for a reason, there should be no variances or exemptions to the rules.
on April 10,2014 | 09:06AM
control wrote:
Ha ha, Makikiki..... but we all know that this will be coming in the next 30 years, as our condos all age developers will be chomping at the bit for exemptions to our current residential neighborhoods.
on April 10,2014 | 09:08AM
PabloWegesend wrote:
WE either build out or build up! We don't have much more "out" (space to sprawl), so we build up! Those who are angry about "Honolulu becoming another Manhattan" need to stop living in the glorious past that never was and start living in the 21st century!
on April 10,2014 | 01:51PM
HawaiiLau wrote:
Mc Cully Street is a main road out of Waikiki. It terrible to drive it too small, so this will just add to the congestion. Well like they say in those commercials the best thing about building in town is "we keep the country.. Country" I thought the plan of adding the rail was so people can live in the country. Interesting.
on April 10,2014 | 02:37PM
Nocturnal wrote:
Certain parts in the mainland you can get a 5 bedroom house for 250k. Man we are being raped but it's supply and demand.
on April 10,2014 | 05:38PM
K3nji wrote:
As soon as you grant the variance, the next developer will cite it in their request. Goodbye regulation. It seems they knew the rules when they drew it. Why can’t it be designed to conform?
on April 10,2014 | 06:50PM
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