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Polls find support for Koolauloa project

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 3:45 a.m. HST, Feb 9, 2011

Despite the uproar over a proposal to rezone hundreds of acres of agricultural land in Koolauloa, Oahu residents remain overwhelmingly supportive of the plan by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to build unknown numbers of homes, retail businesses and churches.

The Dec. 8 survey of 832 Oahu residents — including 157 who live in Koolauloa — found that both groups, by a more than 2-to-1 margin, overwhelmingly support the idea that a "moderate amount of growth" is necessary for Koolauloa to be vibrant and sustainable.

Slightly more respondents from both groups agreed with the statement that the slogan "Keep the Country Country" means "no" to growth that attracts more tourists and wealthy new homebuyers to Koolauloa.

The phone and Internet survey conducted by Honolulu-based Ward Research Inc. and the Washington, D.C., market research firm Heart + Mind Strategies revealed similar attitudes found in a 2009 survey by Heart + Mind, in conjunction with Hawaii-based OmniTrak Group Inc.

Hawaii Reserves Inc., which manages and owns LDS-affiliated property, plans to show both surveys to city and state officials who eventually will decide whether to rezone the land, said R. Eric Beaver, president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Reserves.

Some community meetings over the plan have seen dozens of supporters wearing powder-blue "Envision Laie" T-shirts in opposition to people in dark green "Keep the Country Country" T-shirts.

The surveys show that a majority of Oahu residents both in and out of Koolauloa actually support the fundamental reasons behind the project, specifically the need for jobs and affordable homes in Koolauloa, Beaver said.

Some 62 percent of Koolauloa residents strongly supported more affordable, multifamily housing, and an additional 26 percent did "somewhat support" more affordable housing. An additional 60 percent of Koolauloa residents strongly supported the idea that new housing is needed for local residents and workers first, rather than for people from other parts of Oahu and outside Hawaii, with another 14 percent saying they "somewhat" supported the concept.

Hawaii Reserves plans to rebuild the demolished 50-room Laie Inn adjacent to the Polynesian Cultural Center into a 220-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel that is expected to open in September 2013.

In the latest survey, 70 percent of Oahu residents supported building a replacement hotel, with even more Koolauloa residents showing support.

"We all live out here in the country, and we love the country, too, but what does this really mean?" Beaver said. "Some say it means no growth whatsoever, and that's really not the case."

The latest survey also offers a snapshot of the distinctive characteristics of the people who live in Koolauloa:

» Nearly half of the respondents from Koolauloa — 43 percent — stated a religious preference for "LDS/Mormon." The plurality of Oahu residents — just 20 percent — stated "none" as a religious preference. The next-largest group of Oahu residents — 18 percent — identified themselves as Catholics.

» The average Koolauloa household has 4.3 residents, compared with 3.5 residents elsewhere on Oahu.

» Some 40 percent of Koolauloa residents reported that family members had to move out of the region because of a lack or jobs or affordable homes.

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