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HCDA should reject tower realignment

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What part of "no" does OliverMcMillan not understand?

The San Diego firm is the first to come up with a high-rise project since the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the quasi-independent state agency overseeing Kakaako redevelopment, last fall approved its new rules guiding that process. No sooner has the ink dried on the rules than the company asked the HCDA for an exemption from them, aimed at providing better views from more units in the project, dubbed Symphony. Of course, escaping the rules is aimed at commanding much higher sales prices for the developers, too.

The public is invited to testify at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the HCDA office, 461 Cooke St. That’s not a convenient time for most working people, but for those who can submit comments, they should urge the state to stick by its guns and deny the exemption.

Symphony would be a 400-foot tower at the corner of Kapiolani Boulevard and Ward Avenue, with its long side parallel to Kapiolani. That angling would violate rules, effective last October, that would mandate that the long side of towers run parallel to the nearest of five streets running in the mauka-makai direction — in this case, Ward — deviating by no more than 20 degrees.

This orientation is designed to maintain some of the mauka-makai view planes, rather than creating a wall along Ala Moana, the makai boundary of the zone in which 400-foot towers are permitted.

OliverMcMillan, like any developer wanting to build in an expensive but potentially lucrative zone, wants to make the most of ocean views by facing one of the tower’s broad sides toward the ocean. Its development director maintains that facing the broad side toward Kapiolani would avoid construction over an underground stream channel and would reduce energy consumption by keeping the broad faces of the tower away from the sun’s heat.

Whatever design advantages and cost avoidance that accrue here are offset by the effects on the rest of the Kakaako special design district. Every developer down the line surely will want the same consideration — and on what basis would HCDA deny them, if OliverMcMillan is exempted?

The result would be the Manhattan-style canyon of towers that everyone agrees would be a major departure from what Honolulu residents want, even in their most urbanized settings.

When the district was first conceived 30 years ago, planners envisioned replacing industrial Kakaako with a futuristic mix of high-rise residences and businesses — superblock towers connected by pedestrian skyways, and public parks landscaping the rooftops of parking garages.

Thankfully, that vision has been eclipsed by blueprints that sketch out somewhat airier and aesthetic neighborhoods, with more residential, retail and recreational elements at ground level.

"Are we going to have a canyon of concrete and glass?" asked Bob Loy, director of environmental programs director for The Outdoor Circle. "We think (the developer) should lead by example and minimize the impact on view planes."

He’s exactly right. It’s bad form for the new neighbors in town to upset the applecart the minute they step off the plane. And HCDA must not sacrifice its carefully conceived plans for the district if it’s to fulfill any of its design goals. This is the threshold of the last zone of waterfront urban Honolulu has. Squandering such an asset would be tragic.

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