Development incentives tied to the city’s rail system combined with strong housing and tourism demand have cranked up efforts to build residential or hotel towers mauka of Ala Moana Center near the transit line’s envisioned last stop in urban Honolulu.
The neighborhood board for this area hosted presentations Tuesday evening for two such high-rise projects that would add about 800 residential or hotel units on sites along Makaloa Street across from Wal-Mart.
These two projects join at least five others that are in the works nearby but have yet to begin rising.
“It’s very exciting times,” said Jim Freeman, a principal with Honolulu-based FSC Architects representing the developer of one of the two new projects. “You guys are the busiest neighborhood board in the state — and will be for the next several years.”
With seven planned towers, the area referred to as the Sheridan Tract mauka of the state’s largest shopping center is close to rivaling Kakaako, where several towers have opened in the last couple of years and four are still under construction.
The Ala Moana-Kakaako Neighborhood Board covers both areas and has been ground zero for tower development presentations that often are the first public forums where project details are shared.
In the Sheridan area close to the planned Ala Moana rail station, developers are seeking to take advantage of building height and density bonuses allowed under interim city rules for transit-oriented development, or TOD.
In Kakaako, where a couple of rail stations also are planned, special state development rules apply and already allow 400-foot-tall buildings that are the tallest in the state.
The two newest tower plans for the Sheridan area seek to rise just as high.
Neighborhood board members commented on benefits the projects would bring by replacing hostess bars and providing affordable housing along with open space for pedestrians, though concerns over traffic, building density and height also were expressed — especially for one tower that proposes to exceed the maximum height under TOD rules.
The first project presented was a 400-unit condo that could include some rentals mauka of Walgreens on the corner of Makaloa and Keeaumoku streets.
Keith Kurahashi, a local planning consultant representing developer ProsPac Holdings, told the board that the tower with about 600 parking spaces along with ground-level restaurant and retail space would be targeted to local residents and be about 420 feet from the Ala Moana rail station.
“We believe this new project will breathe new life into the Ala Moana area and will contribute to the neighborhood’s transformation into a dynamic, revitalized mixed-use community,” he said.
ProsPac is a firm led by Xianxin Chen, a founding shareholder of Shanghai HuaRui bank, the first private bank in Shanghai. The company bought most of the Makaloa Street site in March for $18 million, according to property records.
Kurahashi said the project, which has not yet been named, would provide “generous” open space of about 9,000 square feet around the building and another 5,500 square feet in an arcade with 28-foot ceilings.
Kurahashi also said the developer would provide more than the minimum amount of affordable housing required by the city, but he did not specify how much.
The open space and affordable housing are intended to be part of a public-benefits package offered in return for allowing the building to be taller and denser than permitted under standard city zoning rules.
However, ProsPac also is seeking to go higher than what even TOD zoning allows, and possibly will seek a variance for extra density, too.
Existing zoning for the site allows buildings up to 250 feet and 170,000 square feet of residential or commercial floor area, which is tied to the size of a lot and excludes parking.
Under TOD rules the maximum height is 350 feet with a floor area of 250,000 square feet.
ProsPac’s proposed tower is 400 feet tall with an undisclosed floor area.
Andrea Lum, a spokeswoman with local public relations firm Bennet Group Strategic Communications, representing the developer, said the amount of floor area is still under consideration.
Approving height and density beyond what standard zoning allows is up to the City Council, which will hold public hearings on the subject.
Some neighborhood board members expressed concerns over traffic, density and height but did not take a vote on supporting or opposing the project. A board’s view is taken into account by the City Council but is only advisory.
The second tower being proposed is makai of Wal-Mart on Makaloa Street in an area where TOD zoning allows taller and denser buildings compared with the ProsPac site.
Developer California Investment Regional Center LLC proposes Hawaii Ocean Plaza with 207 condos, 200 hotel rooms and 410 parking spaces.
Existing zoning allows a 250-foot maximum height and roughly 150,000 square feet of floor area. Under TOD rules a 400-foot tower with 450,000 square feet of floor area can be permitted.
Freeman, the architect representing the project, said the plan is to maximize floor area but also set the building back farther from property lines than required while also providing affordable housing and open space.
“The entire street setback is dedicated for public use,” he said.
Larry Hurst, the board’s first vice chairman, said he likes that both tower projects will replace uses deplored by many community members.
“Good job,” he said. “You’ve wiped out a whole lot of hostess bars.”
Wendy Lagareta, a Manoa resident whose family owns property in the area occupied by a pet hospital, said developers should adhere to height limits. “They set height limits for a reason,” she told the board.
Michelle Foyt, a board member, also expressed concerns about building heights but was ready to endorse the Ocean Plaza project. Again, though, the board took no position, but urged residents to attend City Council hearings on the projects.
Of the five other towers planned for the area, two received Council approval in recent months. They are a 400-foot hotel and condo called Manaolana Place at the corner of Kapiolani Boulevard and Atkinson Drive, and a 400-foot condo called Kapiolani Residence at 1631 Kapiolani Blvd. mauka of the Ala Moana Hotel.
Other nearby projects include a 350-foot hotel and condo tower next to Walgreens fronting Kapiolani Boulevard, a 420-foot condo on the makai side of Kapiolani Boulevard fronting Kona Iki Street and a 250-foot condo called Hawaii City Plaza on Sheridan Street by the same developer planning the Ocean Plaza tower.