The regulatory stage has been set — again — for a state commission to determine whether prime farmland in Ewa is a suitable site for a community with roughly as many homes as Mililani or Hawaii Kai.
Hearings are slated to begin this fall at the state Land Use Commission on the merits of Ho’opili, an estimated $4.6 billion project with 11,750 homes, five public schools and 3 million to 4 million square feet of commercial space proposed by the local Schuler Division of Texas-based developer D.R. Horton.
Previous hearings began in early 2009, but were derailed in August 2009 after the commission deemed Schuler’s original petition deficient because it didn’t adequately split the project into phases.
The commission two years ago heard a lot of testimony in which passions for and against the project ran high. Criticism was largely focused on traffic and farmland impacts, while support focused on accommodating population growth with homes and jobs.
But the deficiency ruling prevented any vote on the merits of the project, which also had drawn concerns from three state agencies — the Department of Agriculture, Office of Planning and Department of Transportation.
In May, Schuler announced revisions to the master plan, and has worked to increase public support in advance of what amounts to a retrial of the project before the LUC.
The revised plan designated 251 acres within the 1,554-acre Ho’opili site for commercial farming, community gardens and home gardens. Other additions included a 5-megawatt solar power plant, photovoltaic systems on at least 10 percent of homes and wiring all homes for photovoltaic systems and electric vehicle chargers.
In June, the Makakilo-Kapolei-Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board voted 8-0 to support Ho’opili. Many people in the audience wore Ho’opili T-shirts or "Ho’opili Now" stickers. Previously the board had not taken a position on the plan.
One day before a June 30 LUC meeting to determine whether a new round of Ho’opili hearings should be held, Pacific Resource Partnership, an alliance between contractors and the Carpenters Union Local 745, announced results of a commissioned poll of 600 Oahu residents stating that 62 percent of respondents support Ho’opili.
And at the June 30 meeting, dozens of supporters mostly wearing construction trades shirts, displayed signs of support inside and outside the meeting. Far fewer opponents of the project attended the meeting, but also brought signs.
The LUC voted to allow Schuler to present its case again, with revised project elements.
THE DEVELOPER has said that the site roughly bordered by H-1 freeway, Ewa Villages, Fort Weaver Road and Kualakai Parkway is appropriate for development because it’s within the city’s urban growth boundary. The purpose of the boundary is to accommodate population growth and protect farmland elsewhere from development.
The site is near three ongoing development projects — the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, a Salvation Army Kroc Center and a Department of Hawaiian Home Lands subdivision — that support Schuler’s view that Ho’opili would be the final piece of the decades-old vision for creating a "Second City" on Oahu.
Though the project would have a negative effect on traffic, Schuler said it will be minimized with two rail stations at Ho’opili and businesses employing 7,000 people, which would help reduce the number of people commuting to work in Honolulu via automobile.
Schuler said 27,000 construction and development-related jobs are expected to be generated over a projected 20-year build-out.
OPPONENTS of the project contend that Oahu needs to preserve prime farmland for growing food, and that jobs shouldn’t be the main motivation for paving over land once used to grow sugar cane and now leased to truck crops and seed corn farmers, including Aloun Farms.
Traffic is another major concern, especially for people living farther west of the Ho’opili site.
Community organization Friends of Makakilo, led by area resident Kioni Dudley, challenged Ho’opili with expert testimony before the LUC in 2009. In the renewed case before the commission, the Sierra Club and state Sen. Clayton Hee intend to join Dudley to contest the case.
Upcoming hearings to approve or reject Ho’opili could take six months to a year. If all approvals, including a city and county zoning change that Schuler would need if it prevails at the LUC, are obtained without unexpected delay, the developer anticipates it could deliver initial homes in 2013.