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Hawaii News

Kukui Gardens improvements rejuvenating community

Andrew Gomes
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Frank Ramos, a 24-year resident of Kukui Gardens, walked with his grandson Jordan Kamaile yesterday on the makai side of the affordable-housing complex. Despite being under separate ownership, both sides of the 22-acre property on the edge of Chinatown are undergoing improvements.

About $30 million in renovation work is breathing new life into one of Oahu’s largest affordable-rental housing communities, Kukui Gardens.

It’s a rebirth of sorts — giving the low-income complex much more of a garden atmosphere compared with the hard-edged character Kukui Gardens had from a liberal use of concrete landscaping.

But the renovation work also is part of separating the community of roughly 2,000 residents into two parts — a mauka half owned by a for-profit developer, and a makai half owned by the state and a nonprofit development partnership.

Kukui Gardens residents say overall they like the upgrades under way at the 40-year-old complex spread over 22 acres largely on the block bordered by Vineyard Boulevard and Liliha, Beretania and Aala streets on the edge of Chinatown.

"We feel a renewed sense of pride in our community and can’t wait for the finishing touches to be done," said Carol Anzai, president of the Kukui Gardens Residents Association.

Work began several months ago and is slated for completion in February.

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Each owner is spending about $15 million; about 130 people are employed for the renovation.

Many of the enhancements are similar for the two sides of the property, though more upgrades are being made to the mauka side owned by the for-profit developer, Carmel Partners.

The biggest improvement for both sides involved repairing roof gutter leaks that would infiltrate apartments through windows.

Landscaping is another big change. Carmel said it is landscaping its side of the property with more than 2,000 plants, including 313 trees, some of which will be tall palms lining Vineyard. Previously, there may have been a dozen trees on the mauka side of the property, said Tom Tschudin, development manager for Carmel, which bought Kukui Gardens in 2006 and split it with the state and a nonprofit partnership in a 2007 deal.

Heavy landscaping also is a feature on the makai side being improved by EAH Housing and its partner, Devine & Gong Inc.

The landscaping in many areas is replacing what had been sprawling concrete courtyards. "It’s not going to be the same place," Tschudin said. "It’ll be lush. It’ll be green — a less institutionalized look."

Adding to the effect is changing the color of all the roughly 40 three- to six-story buildings on the property from a dull white to a mix of soft, mostly earthy colors.

Some renovations are planned for unit interiors, including replacing floor tiling, kitchen cabinet doors, closet doors and paint.

"Compared to what it used to look like, this is a major transformation," said Abe Kia, property manager with EAH.

Both developers said they are trying to coordinate the improvements so that they more or less match. But there are also some differences.

Carmel is building a two-story clubhouse featuring a fitness center, business center with three computers, a fax and scanner, plus a clubroom with a kitchen and big-screen TV. Carmel also is adding three barbecue areas, new playground equipment and comfortable benches replacing flat concrete-slab benches without backs.

Other Carmel additions will create somewhat of a division between the two sides of the community. Carmel plans to rename its half of the property Waena Apartments. And the company is installing a perimeter aluminum fence that will feature cameras and access keys at entrances. A section of fence also will be installed to divide the two halves of Kukui Gardens.

Tschudin said the gates will be open during the day to encourage free flow of pedestrians and vehicle traffic that has historically existed on the property. But at 7 p.m. the gates will be locked, with access only for Waena residents.

Tschudin said he expects old neighbors will continue to be close neighbors after the changes are complete, and that he expects cross-use of common-area facilities during the day, while neighbors can let each other through the interior fence at night.

"I don’t think it’ll interrupt them," he said. "I don’t think they’ll see it differently at all."

EAH is not planning any fencing around its side of the property, and will retain the Kukui Gardens name.

Frank Ramos, a Kukui Gardens resident who has lived on the makai side for 24 years, said the changes overall are uplifting. "I like the changes," he said. "It’s really nice. It puts life into (the property)."


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