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Smaller projects progress in Laie

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 8:58 p.m. HST, Jan 23, 2011

It will take years before city and state officials decide whether to rezone hundreds of acres of agricultural land near Brigham Young University-Hawaii for development, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already has begun a handful of smaller projects it insists will make life better for the Windward corner of Oahu's North Shore.

While the church's Envision Laie project for hundreds of homes, shops and churches continues to divide communities from Kaneohe to Kahuku, plans are already under way to build a new 220-room hotel in Laie and to detour traffic off the two-lane Kamehameha Highway that connects nearly every aspect of life around Kahuku and Laie.

LDS church officials say they need their Envision Laie project to expand BYU-Hawaii's 2,500-member student body and create badly needed jobs and affordable homes for young families.

The details of the project will be aired in public hearings through a process that could take three to seven years and will require approval from the Planning Commission, City Council and state Land Use Commission, said R. Eric Beaver, president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Reserves Inc., which manages and owns LDS-affiliated property.

But Hawaii Reserves, BYU-Hawaii and the church's Polynesian Cultural Center already have begun other projects — or are proceeding with plans — that do not require the same kind of government review that has stirred so much emotion on the North Shore over the Envision Laie project:

» The old 50-room, Laie Inn adjacent to the Polynesian Cultural Center on Kamehameha Highway that was demolished last year will be reborn as a 220-room, Courtyard by Marriott hotel that is expected to open in September 2013. The 150,000-square-foot complex of three- to four-story buildings will cost $25 million to build.

» BYU-Hawaii plans to begin construction this spring or summer on a three-year project to demolish and rebuild old student housing, which will add about 100 more beds. Campus officials also just launched a project that will allow students to rent either of two Hertz cars — from an hour to a day — reducing the need for students to keep their own vehicles on campus and drive them on Kamehameha Highway, BYU-Hawaii President Steven Wheelwright said.

Nineteen percent of BYUH's students currently own vehicles. Wheelwright wants to reduce the volume of student vehicles to just 10 percent.

» The Polynesian Cultural Center wants to encourage more guests to ride buses in from Waikiki rather than driving rental cars that add to congestion on Kamehameha Highway.

"Half of our visitors come on a bus. We want to increase that to 75 percent," said Von Orgill, president and chief executive officer of the Polynesian Cultural Center. "With 2.4 visitors in each rental car versus 50 people per bus, that's a lot of rental cars we can get off of the road."

» A project to build a fenced, mile-and-a-half bike path between Kahawainui and Malaekahana bridges broke ground in September and is scheduled to be completed by May. The 8-foot wide path sits on land managed by Hawaii Reserves and the work is led by Pane Meatoga, the president of the Laie Community Association, who is also a member of the Hawaii Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, which donated labor.

Some people concerned about the Envision Laie plan also have reservations about the church's smaller projects, especially the Courtyard by Marriott.

Orgill, of the Polynesian Cultural Center, said the hotel would help reduce traffic on Kamehameha Highway by allowing guests to stay overnight. Wheelwright, BYU-Hawaii's president, said students' families currently drive out each day from Waikiki and back to their hotels each night for big events, such as graduation.

But Choon James, a member of the Koolauloa Sustainable Communities Planning Advisory Committee, wants LDS officials to "consider the multiplier impacts an overly large hotel will impose on the rural character, traffic and lifestyle of this community and region.

"Others mentioned that they would prefer to see the inn locally owned. There are reservations circulating about well-known pornographic media services that this large-chain Marriott hotel provides," said James, referring to adult movies available on in-room TVs. "This thought greatly grates on the senses and values of many conservative residents in this area. This conservative town also has an unspoken dress-standard like that of BYU-Hawaii's dress code. Thus there are apprehensions about Clissolds Beach being overrun with 24/7 bikini sunbathers. ... It will change the complexion of this conservative and rural town."

David Henkin, chairman of the Kahuluu Neighborhood Board, said the hotel will only add traffic on Kamehameha Highway, which will affect traffic up and down the entire Windward side.

"I can't imagine how a new and bigger hotel would reduce traffic," he said.

Creighton Mattoon, a member of the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board, also has concerns about the size and design of the new hotel.

Mattoon also called PCC's plan to reduce rental cars coming into the center "wishful thinking."

"Common sense tells you that people here on vacation are going to rent cars," he said.

But Kela Miller, an employee of Hawaii Reserves who also serves on the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board and is vice president of the Laie Community Association, said the proposed changes will help make life better for her family and neighbors.

"If my ancestors were here, they would definitely approve," said Miller, who was born and raised in Laie and traces her family's roots in Laie back through five generations.

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