SamKoo wins final approval for affordable housing in Ala Moana despite mayor’s objections
Embracing the view that affordable housing units in the near future trump a transit hub on the same site in the distant future, the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday voted 9-0 to approve exemptions clearing the way for SamKoo Hawaii’s 43-story, 513-unit The Central Ala Moana.
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Embracing the view that affordable housing units in the near future trump a transit hub on the same site in the distant future, the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday voted 9-0 to approve exemptions clearing the
way for SamKoo Hawaii’s 43-story, 513-unit The Central Ala Moana.
While Council members applaud SamKoo for setting aside 310, or 60 percent, of the units for those making between 80 and 140 percent of the Oahu median income, Mayor Kirk Caldwell had called for a deferral because he is eyeing the property
for use in extending the city’s planned rail line to the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus.
The 1.43-acre site, bounded by Kapiolani, Kona Iki and Kona streets, is several hundred feet from the final stop of the city’s 20-mile, East Kapolei-to-Ala Moana rail line that’s scheduled to be completed in 2025.
Resolution 18-169 grants the project a number of exemptions from zoning and land use laws in exchange for putting up affordable housing units in a transit-oriented development area. Among them are permission to exceed existing height limits by building up to
400 feet, a greater density, and a break from various city fees including $10.7 million for park dedication.
Plans submitted to the city by SamKoo call for 36
of the units to be aimed at those making 80 to 90 percent of the Oahu area median income, 33 units at those making 90 to 100 percent of AMI, 61 units at those making 100 of 110 percent of AMI, 61 units at those making 110 to 120 percent of AMI, 68 units at those making 120 to 130 percent of AMI, and 51 units at those making 130 to 140 percent of AMI.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calculations put Oahu’s
2018 AMI at $96,000.
Caldwell has proposed that SamKoo partner with the city for a larger project, encompassing three neighboring parcels that would feature the city’s largest transit hub on the lower floors, and a residential condo tower above it. He warned there were no other parcels that could accommodate such a central station, adding that the site provided the best possible route for an extension to UH-Manoa.
SamKoo officials, however, said they’ve been frustrated and lost several millions of dollars waiting for city officials to come up with a suitable plan, and that delaying their project longer would make it financially unfeasible.
Council members Wednesday said the city can look elsewhere in the area to put a transit center and cited the need for affordable housing as a bigger priority.
Council Zoning Chairwoman Kymberly Pine said the administration has treated SamKoo unfairly when the developer has been trying to make housing accessible to local residents versus mainland investors.
After 10 years of waiting for the city to provide the company a financially feasible plan that would incorporate rail, SamKoo could have sold the property for a hefty profit, Pine said. “Instead, they have a mission to help local people and are going through the pain of this
process of being ridiculed, of being treated differently by different departments that have approved other projects with less affordability rates and amounts.”
Caldwell had testified Monday against approving the resolution and noted that the 119 units aimed at those making 120 to 140 percent of AMI should not be lumped with the other affordable housing units since city rules now require that affordable units be aimed at those making no more than 120 percent of AMI.
“Mayor Caldwell the other day, in my belief, misled the public by focusing on this 140 percent AMI,” Pine said. SamKoo is exceeding the required number of units for those making 80 to 120 percent of AMI, she said. “This is extra that the developer
is putting in because they believe that middle class people have rights too.”
Area Councilman Trevor Ozawa said SamKoo has already constructed a similar model with the Kapiolani Residence condo tower a few blocks away that was wildly popular.
The city can not only continue its efforts to reach a deal with SamKoo, it can look at other properties elsewhere and shouldn’t hesitate to negotiate
with Brookfield Property Partners, the new owners of Ala Moana Center, because the mall benefits from having tens of thousands of
passengers who get on and off TheBus there daily, Ozawa said.