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Nonprofits urge that developer contribute more to city’s affordable housing

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At least half a dozen Hawaii nonprofit organizations are pressing the Honolulu City Council to hold off on giving the final OK for a 400-foot condo-hotel tower across from the Hawai‘i Convention Center, arguing that the developer should be required to contribute more to alleviate Oahu’s affordable housing crunch.

Developers of the 36-floor Mana‘olana Place Hotel and Resort Condominium is now being required to pay $2.4 million in “in lieu” fees that would go to the city’s affordable housing trust fund as one of the conditions for obtaining an Interim Planned Development Transit permit.

Gavin Thornton, co-executive director of Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic co-executive director, said he and others spoke with various Council members Monday in an effort to press the deferral to work on a heftier contribution.

“I think everybody understood that this may not be a great deal for the community,” Thornton told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser today.

Four other groups that advocate for more affordable housing options for the disadvantaged also are celling for the Council to defer the resolution: PHOCUSED, Partners In Care, the Housing Now Coalition and Faith Action for Community Equity.

They join the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which testified at a Council Zoning and Planning Committee meeting last month that the developer of the Mana‘olana Place Hotel and Residential Condominium project should provide more to affordable housing than the $2.4 million that city officials are recommending they contribute. OHA said the developer should be required to contribute actual units, not just in-lieu fees.

The Council is scheduled to hold a final vote Wednesday on Resolution 16-172, which would allow Mana‘olana Partners to build the tower up to 400 feet, instead of the existing 350-foot limit. The Interim Planned-Development Transit permit would grant other variances, including relaxation of setback requirements, more floor space, half the required parking spaces, reduced landscaping and the ability to operate a full-service hotel where zoning allows a limited-service facility.

Proposed is a 36-floor building with 109 residential units, 125 hotel rooms, and a public area in the lower levels that will have commercial operations, restaurants, a plaza and other open space. The 50,541-square-foot complex is on two parcels bounded by Kapiolani Boulevard, Atkinson Drive and Kona Street that are now home to five one- and two-story commercial buildings that house, among other things, a 7-Eleven and various bars and restaurants.

Thornton said Tuesday, however, he’s not as concerned what form the contribution would be made, only that the amount be equitable to the benefits Mana‘olana get from the exemptions. “In light of all the benefits that this developer is getting, it just seems like a bad deal.”

For instance, the agreement allows the developer to create 276 parking spaces instead of 546, Thornton said. That gives the developer a lot of savings because parking stalls typically cost between $30,000 and $50,000 each, he said.

Scott Fuji, PHOCUSED executive director, said he wants Council members to step back and analyze for themselves whether the in-lieu fee makes sense. “They should have more time to have a discussion about that,” he said.

Harrison Rue, the city’s community building and transit oriented development administrator, said Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s draft affordable housing strategy calls for requiring most developers to either provide affordable housing onsite, offsite or contribute an in-lieu fee based on $45 per square foot of residential space.

“The (Mana‘olana) project includes 53,390 square feet of residential floor area over 350 feet,” Rue said, in a statement. “At $45/square feet, that is $2,402,550.”

The developer originally proposed $1.1 million for housing but DPP recommended a $2.4 million contribution, he said.

The $2.4 million is part of an estimated $7 million community benefits package. The nonprofits want a breakdown of that package.

The Interim Planned Development-Transit Permit would be the first ever granted by the city if the full Council approves it.

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  • There should never have been in-lieu of fees in the first place. If you build an affordable housing unit it will always be there (tighten up the rules regarding ownership/sale of those units too). Once the city spends the money it’s gone. If the mayor and city council weren’t so in bed with/beholden to developers the affordable housing issue wouldn’t have to be as dire as it is.

    • well said. City Council is ethically compromised as always. The developers are, in addition, the least charitable, least giving people in this community. I agree with the coalition of nonprofits.

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