A bill rezoning 576 acres of agricultural land in Waipio for Castle and Cooke’s large-scale Koa Ridge project was given a preliminary approval by the City Council Planning Committee late Thursday.
The 5-0 approval came after nearly five hours of debate with impassioned arguments about the need for jobs and housing clashing with equally emotional testimony about traffic worries and the loss of agricultural land.
Members Ann Kobayashi and Ron Menor voted "yes" with reservations, citing continued worries about traffic. The others voting yes were Zoning Chairman Ikaika Anderson and members Breene Harimoto and Kymberly Pine.
Bill 48 now goes to the full Council for the second of three required votes.
Scores of people in a standing-room-only meeting at Leeward Community College gave their views on the controversial project before the City Council Zoning and Planning Committee. Bill 48 would allow the developer to build up to 3,500 residential units on 576 acres of former pineapple land just north of Ka Uka Boulevard and the Waipio Costco, between Waipio and Mililani.
Castle & Cooke planner Keith Kurahashi said that besides badly needed housing, the project will provide 2,300 permanent jobs, 1,100 of them in the medical field due to the expected relocation of the existing Wahiawa General Hospital.
The ratio of jobs to homes developed will help ease anticipated traffic the development will cause, Kurahashi said. All the recommended improvements in a traffic impact analysis report, with the exception of a costly H-2 freeway interchange at Pineapple Road, will be completed before the first homes are developed in 2016, he said.
But Dick Poirier, longtime chairman of the Mililani Neighborhood Board, said the traffic report done in 2009 and paid for by the developer is flawed. Yet to be approved by the state Department of Transportation, the traffic plan takes into consideration only traffic from Mililani to Pearl City and doesn’t paint a complete picture, Poirier said.
The Mililani and Wahiawa boards have taken positions asking that the Council not approve the project, at least until the city’s overall General Plan and the Central Oahu Sustainable Community Plan are updated to provide studies that support it.
The Mililani Mauka Neighborhood Board voted to support the project, while the Waipahu Neighborhood Board has not taken a position.
Dozens of members of construction and related worker unions, many of them dressed in orange pro-development shirts, stood in the back of the room through much of the meeting in a show of support for the project.
Lance Yoshimura, a Mililani Mauka resident for 21 years, said he supports the project because he wants his three children to be able to live nearby.
Eventually, he said, he and his wife would like to live in a senior development at Koa Ridge and see one of his sons raise his family in a home in the development. His daughter would take over the Mililani Mauka house.
He will then be able to provide baby-sitting for his grandchildren, he said. In Hawaii, he said, "we help each other out and ohana comes first."
But Katherine Kupukaa, a 31-year resident of Mililani, said she’s also looking toward the future. "It’s agricultural land," she said. "Once you take away this land and build on it, it can never be restored."
The property is former pineapple land — now farmed by Aloun Farms.
Among the most vocal opponents of the project has been the Sierra Club Hawaii chapter, whose members Thursday night pointed out that they support the city’s $5.26 billion rail project and the pending 12,000-unit Hoopili project in the Ewa Plain because long-range plans call for development in West Oahu, not in Central Oahu.
Anthony Aalto, chairman of the Sierra Club Oahu Group, also pointed out that his organization is still appealing the state Land Use Commission’s approval of Koa Ridge. "Assuming this appeal is upheld in state court, the city would be in the very uncomfortable position of having given zoning approval for an urban development on a farm which the state still classifies as ag land," Aalto said. "What would you do then?"
The city Department of Planning and Permitting supports the project. Planning Director George Atta testified that contrary to the contention of opponents that the project constitutes urban sprawl, Koa Ridge is considered an "in-fill project" because it is "sandwiched between approved or existing land developments" in Pearl City and Mililani.
Council Zoning Chairman Ikaika Anderson agreed to hold the meeting at night in Pearl City at the request of Central Oahu Councilman Ron Menor.
The city Planning Commission gave preliminary approval to rezone the property from agriculture to mixed urban use in July.
Koa Ridge won land reclassification from agricultural to urban use from the state Land Use Commission in June 2012. A second phase of Koa Ridge, not included in this rezoning request, but part of the LUC approval, calls for 1,500 more homes and an elementary school.