The Honolulu City Council has sided with an advisory board and an overwhelming community view to reject a developer’s proposal to rezone farmland on the fringe of Haleiwa town for residential use.
Council members voted 5-0 against the plan by Hawaii movie theater chain veteran Scott Wallace to develop 29 house lots after a special meeting held Wednesday night in a historic wooden gym on the North Shore near Wallace’s property.
The decision was made despite contentions by Wallace that his 7-acre Haleiwa Plantation Village project would provide badly needed affordable housing, affect traffic negligibly and use unproductive farmland. Wallace’s plan also was supported by the city Department of Planning and Permitting and the state Department of Agriculture.
Yet a negative recommendation from the Honolulu Planning Commission combined with opposition from many North Shore residents swayed the Council committee that voted to defer a bill considering Wallace’s rezoning application and a related measure to redraw a state land-use boundary.
The deferral effectively kills the applications because Wallace needed final Council approval by Aug. 16, and no time extension was given.
However, Wallace was not conceding ultimate defeat after the decision.
“I have to re-examine the project,” he said. “I heard a lot of good community input, and we’ll try to find another solution to bring affordable housing to Haleiwa.”
Throughout the almost three-hour meeting, the crowd of close to 300 people applauded those who spoke against Wallace’s plan and outnumbered supporters.
The biggest negative issues were the conversion of farmland, traffic, a wastewater plan and stormwater drainage.
Several testifiers said farmers have worked the area including Wallace’s property for generations and that it isn’t right to forever change that.
“Why I’m up here mostly is to preserve my family legacy in this area,” said Thomas Shirai, whose relatives farmed the area and own a home in a neighborhood bordering Wallace’s property.
Wallace, who led off the meeting with a presentation, said his project would make better use of poor-quality farmland and simply extend an existing 15-home neighborhood as “infill” residential development that is supported by the North Shore Sustainable Communities Plan.
“There are homes all around this area,” he said. “This home is not out in the agricultural area.”
But North Shore Neighborhood Board member SharLyn Foo said approving Wallace’s project would establish a precedent that could spread to other North Shore farm sites next to residential property. “We are surrounded by ag land,” she said.
Wallace said his project is unique because the site is within the city’s urban growth boundary. He also said a Laotian farmer quit farming the site because of soil difficulties, expensive water, flooding and an apple snail infestation.
T.J. Cuaresma claimed that five generations of farmers in her family productively farmed the area, and said Wallace’s argument about the land’s quality stinks. “For anyone to say that land is no good is pilau,” she said. “Ag land should remain ag land.”
Regarding traffic, Wallace said 29 new households would have a negligible impact on already terrible jams largely caused by tourist traffic.
Opponents disagreed and said Wallace’s traffic study was based on an unrealistic 1.2 cars per home.
Other issues that Wallace and opponents debated were the project’s planned wastewater treatment plant that would inject treated water into a well, and the ability of engineers to detain floodwater that runs onto the property.
In all, about 45 people, including state Sen. Gil Riviere and Rep. Sean Quinlan representing the North Shore, testified against the project, compared with about 10 supporters.
Most supporters said they favored new affordable housing.
Wallace committed to sell the roughly 5,000-square-foot lots for between $175,000 and $225,000. He also said nine lots would meet a city affordable-housing requirement and that buyers would partner with Habitat for Humanity to build their own homes under a program offering interest-free loans for 40 to 50 years.
Additionally, Wallace said he would give local residents an initial purchase preference, prohibit buyers from reselling for at least three years or maybe five, and prohibit Airbnb use through a homeowners association.
Chad Ventura, a Waialua resident born and raised on the North Shore, regarded the project as a good homeownership opportunity.
Another supporter was Mark Robinson, a longtime North Shore resident who said he raised two kids who can’t afford to live in the community.
Simon Bebb, a developer and North Shore resident, said he has a “Keep the Country Country” sticker on his car but supports affordable homes on Wallace’s land because the site is in Haleiwa town.
Councilman Ernie Martin, who represents the North Shore, said he believes urban development should be directed to urban Honolulu and around the Second City of Kapolei. He also said the Planning Commission recommendation surprised him and that he would not vote to approve Wallace’s project.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson said he saw merit in the affordable housing but supported a recommendation by committee Chairwoman Kymberly Pine to reject the project.
Added Councilman Brandon Elefante, “I’ve always believed in keeping the country country, and it should remain that way.”
Council Chairman Ron Menor also attended and said the vote showed that the Council does listen to the public. Council members Trevor Ozawa, Ann Kobayashi, Carol Fukunaga and Joey Manahan did not attend the meeting.