Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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Changes proposed

The Mormon Church wants its land rezoned for commercial, residential and industrial mixed use

By Dan Nakaso


Plans by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to develop land from Koolaupoko to Kawela have divided residents over the future of their picturesque corner of Windward Oahu.

Church officials insist they need to rezone church-owned agricultural land for shops, churches and 875 new condos, townhouses and single-family homes around Malaekahana to expand Brigham Young University-Hawaii's 2,400-student population to 5,000 students and to create badly needed jobs and affordable homes for young families.

Opponents question whether there is enough fresh water and sewer capacity, and insist the project will change the character around Laie from rural to urban and further clog busy Kamehameha Highway — the two-lane lifeblood of the community and the only way into and out of the area.

THE PROCESS to rezone agricultural land to allow residential, commercial and industrial mixed use 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 the deep divide over the church's Envision Laie project has emerged at community meetings filled by supporters in powder-blue T-shirts — and opponents in green "Keep the Country Country" T-shirts.

Though components of the Envision Laie project will take years to decide, critics are focused on plans by Hawaii Reserves Inc. to transform the old 49-unit Laie Inn near the Polynesian Cultural Center into a 223-unit Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

The hotel's buildings would vary in heights of one, three and four stories and include a swimming pool, restaurant and banquet facilities on 9.84 acres — along with a bike path and crosswalk to get to the beach on the other side of Kamehameha Highway.

Out of 125 expected job openings at the new hotel, 75 are planned as part-time training positions for BYUH's hospitality program, Beaver said. The other 25 full-time and 25 part-time openings will be open to anyone in the community, Beaver said.

Church officials hope the hotel reduces the need for visitors to travel back and forth to the Turtle Bay Resort and as far away as Waikiki for lodging. The Polynesian Cultural Center also is working on a shuttle plan to further cut down on Kamehameha Highway traffic after events at the center.

Critics such as Punaluu resident Creighton Mattoon, a member of the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board, have 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 earlier this year.

In the fall, BYUH officials also plan to begin construction on a three-year project to demolish and rebuild 50-year-old student housing, which will add about 100 more beds. Campus officials also have launched a project that will allow students to rent either of two Hertz cars — for an hour up to a day — reducing the need for students to keep their own vehicles on campus and drive them on Kamehameha Highway, BYUH President Steven Wheelwright said.

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

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