A landowner plans to develop nearly 1,000 moderately priced condo units on Keeaumoku Street and is
offering public benefits including a bigger park in
return for letting two towers rise 50 feet beyond the current limit.
The owner of Keeaumoku International Village is pursuing the development plan that includes what may be a difficult choice for city officials on the extra building-height request that involves allowing more density for other projects in the area.
Cuzco Development U.S.A. LLC, an affiliate of a South
Korean company that owns the 3.5-acre site, unveiled its plan to the Ala Moana-Kakaako Neighborhood Board Tuesday night.
Board members expressed concerns over traffic, while some had positive comments. A city Department of Planning and Permitting official said the agency sees favorable elements in Cuzco’s project but also has reservations about the company’s intention to seek a zoning upgrade for a broader area along Keeaumoku that includes its property.
Cuzco is proposing two versions of its plan with
980 condo units.
One version would comply with interim permitting regulations for large real estate projects within a half-mile of city rail station sites. Under this scenario, Cuzco would develop two 350-foot condo towers, a 10-story condo building, an 11-story parking garage, a ring of two-story retail buildings and 30,000 square feet of public park space.
The second version of the plan has the same retail and parking components, but the two towers would be
400 feet tall, or 50 feet higher than what’s allowed. In return for the height bonus, the 10-story condo would
be replaced by more park space for a total of
37,170 square feet.
A park that big would be about two-thirds the size of a football field including end zones, or a little less than an acre, and provide more of what the city desires in the neighborhood.
According to the city’s draft transit-oriented development (TOD) plan for the Ala Moana area, which includes a rail station near the makai end of Keeaumoku, there aren’t enough community park and recreation facilities in the densely populated neighborhood.
“In particular, outdoor public spaces are lacking near the rail station,” said the plan that envisions about 20 acres of park space possibly being added by new TOD projects.
“This could give a focal point to the Keeaumoku area,” Vernon Inoshita, president of local architectural firm Design Partners Inc., told the neighborhood board. “It would be a terrific public benefit.”
Design Partners is Cuzco’s project architect, and Inoshita said Cuzco is seeking the same building density for either plan version by using the interim rules or obtaining a TOD plan amendment from the City Council.
To build higher, Cuzco wants the city to revise its draft Ala Moana TOD plan currently under consideration by the Council to allow more height and density for a broad area along much of Keeaumoku that includes its property.
Cuzco’s proposed maximum building density is seven times a project’s
land area, expressed as a 7.0 floor-area-ratio, or FAR. This means a 100,000-square-
foot lot could be developed with 700,000 square feet of building space excluding parking.
The draft TOD plan calls for a maximum 5.0 FAR in the area.
Renee Espiau, a senior DPP planner, told the neighborhood board that the agency is concerned about amending the TOD plan to provide a 7.0 FAR for much of Keeaumoku because higher densities were deemed more appropriate for properties along Kapiolani Boulevard and not so close to more historic properties along King Street.
“We do have some concerns about up-zoning the FAR, and I think less so about the height,” she said. “Because when you’re on the sidewalk it’s very hard to tell the difference between a 35-story tower and a 40-story tower, but you can definitely feel the difference between a 5.0 FAR building and a 7.0.”
Cuzco, however, can develop the version of its plan with shorter towers with a 7.0 FAR under existing interim permitting rules for projects near the planned rail line.
Espiau said a “quirk” in the interim permit rules allows Cuzco to more than double the existing standard FAR to 7.0 by providing 30,000 square feet of public space.
Cuzco also is offering to provide more than the minimum number of condos at prices affordable to moderate-income residents. The standard calls for 96, and Cuzco would add nine more under its 350-foot tower plan or 30 more under its 400-foot tower plan, said Keith Kurahashi, a planning consultant for Cuzco.
Kurahashi said half of the affordable units would be priced for residents earning the median income in Honolulu, and half would be for residents earning 120 percent of the median. The rest of the units would likely be priced no higher than what someone earning 140 percent of the median can afford, he said.
With so many new homes, some board members feared that already bad congestion in the area will get worse.
“It’s a nightmare,” said board member Chris Chung, who challenged Cuzco to eliminate most parking so that more people will be forced to ride public transit.
Kurahashi said buyers still want parking, especially because rail operation is years away. He also said Cuzco has done a traffic analysis that shows its project wouldn’t degrade traffic at area intersections by much.
Ron Komine Jr., another board member, said he views the Cuzco project as an improvement to the existing site, which is a disjointed collection of old buildings housing about 40 shops and restaurants. “After all these years of looking at what we have there now, this would be better for our community,” he said.
The board did not take a collective position on the project.
Cuzco’s project is one of several condo or hotel towers planned or under construction near the Ala Moana rail station. The company bought its property in 2007 for $49 million. Two years ago, Cuzco was facing foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy. But the company paid off its debts, which included $600,000 in unpaid property taxes, and kept hold of the property.
Kurahashi said Cuzco intends to soon submit a development application with the city for the smaller tower plan, and also pursue amendments to the TOD plan to allow the taller towers.