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Developer revives 11,750-unit project

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Developer D.R. Horton has revised its plan to build 11,750 houses in Ewa and will again seek approval for the estimated $4.6 billion project called Hoopili nearly two years after it failed to pass the state Land Use Commission.

Horton officials say they have addressed previous concerns raised by the state Department of Agriculture and Department of Transportation about displacing prime farmland and about traffic.

While some community opposition is still anticipated, Mike Jones, president of Horton’s Honolulu-based Schuler Division, said the "new and improved" Hoopili will benefit and help solidify the burgeoning Kapolei region as Oahu’s secondary urban center.

"As my father used to say, you don’t get any better staring at yourself in the mirror," Jones said. "We believe (the changes) make Hoopili a stronger and unique, first-of-its-kind community in Hawaii."

New elements include providing 251 acres, or 16 percent of the 1,554-acre project site, for farming. Of the 251 acres, 159 would be available for lease to commercial farmers, eight would be for community gardens and 84 would be at homesites for residents to grow food.

Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms, who is a consultant for Horton, said the urban agriculture concept will be unique to Hoopili in Hawaii. "Ag can be a partner with development and not an adversary," he said.

More emphasis is also being placed on renewable energy at Hoopili, which will feature a 5-megawatt solar power plant, houses wired for photovoltaic systems and electric vehicle chargers. At least 10 percent of the homes will be built with photovoltaic systems.

Elements that haven’t changed include the total number of homes and higher-density housing concentrated near two rail stations planned by the city at Hoopili. Also, there is still 3 million square feet of commercial space, extensive bike lanes, walkable neighborhood designs, three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in the plan.

Horton plans to submit an amended application to reclassify the land from agricultural to urban use with the Land Use Commission today.

The developer originally submitted its Hoopili land-use application in 2007, proposing to develop a master-planned community through 20 years with roughly as many homes as Mililani or Hawaii Kai on the site once used to grow sugar cane and now leased to truck crop and seed corn farmers, including Aloun Farms.

The site is the last large piece of un-urbanized land within the urban growth boundary on the Ewa Plain, and represents the final piece in the decades-old vision for Oahu’s "Second City," Horton officials said.

The developer has emphasized that the site roughly bordered by the H-1 freeway, Ewa Villages, Fort Weaver Road and Kualakahi Parkway has long been within the urban growth boundary designated by the city to accommodate population growth and protect farmland elsewhere on Oahu from development.

Hoopili will predominantly feature affordable homes with prices ranging from the high-$200,000 level to $500,000, Jones said.

With an estimated 7,000 permanent jobs created by businesses expected to open in the community, Hoopili will generate considerable opportunities for people living in Leeward Oahu to work close to where they live and not commute to Honolulu, he said.

Horton won considerable support for Hoopili from many area residents, including leaders of three neighborhood boards closest to the project site and residents enlisted to help with the community’s design.

Neighboring landowners such as the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which is building houses nearby, and the University of Hawaii, which is developing a West Oahu campus adjacent to the Hoopili site, also have backed the project.

In a move that shocked some observers, the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation agreed that the city’s Ewa Development Plan designating the Hoopili site for urban growth should be respected.

But Hoopili also drew considerable opposition at previous LUC hearings from many surrounding residents, several legislators and the community group Friends of Makakilo.

In August 2009 the commission, in a 5-3 vote, deemed Horton’s original petition deficient because it didn’t adequately split the project into phases.

No decision was made on the merits of whether the site should be urbanized.

Friends of Makakilo founder and 30-year Makakilo resident Michael Kioni Dudley said the group will again contest Hoopili before the LUC.

Dudley said food security issues have become too important to pave over one of Oahu’s highest-producing farms. He also said that without rebuilding the H-1/H-2 freeway merge, a bottleneck will remain for eastbound traffic made only worse by Hoopili.

"Friends of Makakilo are not going to allow (Horton) to put another 12,000 cars in front of us on the freeway," he said.

Cameron Nekota, a Horton vice president in charge of Hoopili, said the developer is sure that traffic mitigation plans — which include various road improvements, an afternoon Zipper lane and changes to the Middle Street merge — will satisfy the Transportation Department.

Nekota said if the department had any concerns, the developer wouldn’t be filing the amended application. 

"We recognized the community and state departments had some concerns with Hoopili, and therefore we used the last few years to work with them, as well as other stakeholders, to improve the project."

Commission hearings could take six months to a year. City zoning approval would be needed after that for Horton to proceed with Hoopili.

If all approvals are obtained without unexpected delay, Horton anticipates delivering the first homes in 2013.

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