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Dozens testify to restrict power of HCDA

By Nanea Kalani

LAST UPDATED: 5:01 a.m. HST, Feb 9, 2014

Dozens of testifiers -- many wearing bright-red "Save Our Kakaako" T-shirts -- showed up in force Saturday morning at the state Capitol where a House committee began hearing several bills that would restrict the powers of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which regulates development in Kakaako.

Residents testified before the House Water and Land Committee, saying they don't trust the HCDA and feel that the agency is catering to developers at the expense of infrastructure, traffic and the mauka and makai views of existing residents.

Several high-rise condominium projects in the area have been approved in seemingly quick succession by the authority as private developers seize on the economic recovery and market demand.

One resident noted that 11 developments have been approved in Kakaako in the past year. Another described the HCDA as a "taxpayer-funded lobby for the construction industry."

Others took issue with luxury penthouses designed to lure wealthy mainland and foreign investors when units designated as affordable are priced out of reach of many residents.

Many asked for lawmakers to help reign in the authority's powers and enforce rules that govern density, infrastructure, affordability and smart growth.

"We're not against development. We want Kakaako to flourish and we hope the Legislature will find ways to get the authority back on track," said longtime Kakaako resident Web Nolan.

State House Majority Leader Scott Saiki, who represents Kakaako and sat in on the hearing, introduced a package of eight bills that would restrict the HCDA's power, including a few aimed at sending a message that the authority is moving too fast in approving projects.

Seven of the bills are before the House Water and Land Committee, chaired by Rep. Cindy Evans. She said the committee would hold off deciding on the measures until Tuesday morning.

More than 100 pieces of written testimony had been submitted by Friday night for each of the seven bills, with the overwhelming majority in support of the measures.

The bills run the gamut from an all-out repeal of the HCDA to zeroing out the authority's budget and imposing a one-year moratorium on the approval of plans in Kakaako.

Other measures would create a contested-case process so individuals can challenge HCDA decisions and empower citizens to sue to enforce the authority's rules, and impose legislative oversight over the authority's functions. Another bill would restructure the HCDA's board of directors.

HCDA Executive Director Anthony Ching testified that the agency needs to work with private developers and landowners to increase affordable housing in the area because the state doesn't own much land in Kakaako.

"The only way for us to produce more housing is to influence the private developer to produce additional housing that is 'affordable' according to the rules that we have established. That housing is done without any state subsidy," Ching said. "We're trying to do the best that we can."

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