Editorial: Build affordable homes with solar
The Hawaii Community Development Authority’s Kalaeloa master plan envisions thriving redevelopment on land within the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station.
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The Hawaii Community Development Authority’s Kalaeloa master plan envisions thriving redevelopment on land within the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station. It’s a promising vision, but staying true to it will require resolve.
Among the hopes and dreams: light industrial, commercial, retail and office space, creating an estimated 7,000 jobs; more than 6,000 residential housing units, with a minimum of 30 percent locked-in as “affordable” housing; and “alternative energy development to promote self-sufficiency.”
Adopted in 2006, the state agency’s plan took shape after the military base closed in 1999 and its 3,700 acres were divided among federal, state and county agencies. HCDA anticipated a slow transition, but has also stressed a commitment to the now dust-covered plan’s vision.
It’s encouraging to see that hope is still alive, with a proposal moving toward construction on the first set of new homes — a 675-home subdivision. Hunt Communities Hawaii LLC, an affiliate of a Texas-based development firm, is prepping to improve roads in the northwest corner of the old base, with home-building to follow within a few years.
Moving forward, HCDA and other state leaders must see to it that commitment holds to effectively meeting the intent of Kalaeloa’s master plan, starting with affordable housing.
According to state projections, Hawaii needs 65,000 more housing units by 2025. Much of that is on Oahu, of course, where most of the demand for affordable housing registers at or below the 80 percent mark of area median income. More needs to be done to open up viable housing options for residents struggling to make financial ends meet.
Regarding home construction, Kalaeloa’s vision should, where supported by adequate infrastructure, move toward higher-density condos and apartments and away from sprawling single-family homes and lawns. Land suitable for housing is limited, so should be tagged to reasonably max-out the number of units.
In addition to efficient use of residential land, developers should be required to include green-minded features in construction. Among the must-haves: solar water heaters, which are recognized as a hugely efficient — and cost-saving — strategy for most homes.
Since 2010, the state has required solar water heating in all new homes. But this law has a variance process for rare exceptions where solar just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, this variance has been abused by developers, despite the Legislature’s intent that variances “will be rarely, if ever, exercised or granted.”
It’s discouraging to see many homes in the first phase of Ho‘opili’s 11,750-home development being built with gas water heaters over solar on the sun-drenched Ewa Plain. While the gas option may be less expensive to install during home construction, it can later add up to higher energy bills for the homeowner.
Last year, state lawmakers deferred a bill that aimed to further narrow the scope of the water-
heater variance, and require that exemption applications be signed by the architect or mechanical engineer attesting to the need. The proposal should be picked up this year to close the law’s fossil-fuel loophole.
Ideally, alongside new housing, thousands of new jobs will surface in Kalaeloa to contain major traffic impacts. But less than five miles from the Barbers Point base, stands evidence that jobs have lagged behind in this area of the island. Decades after Kapolei secured its billing as an aspiring “second city,” it’s finally making strides but still falls short of credible live-work-play community status.
Kalaeloa’s framers must avoid creation of a bedroom community that’s tethered to a long line of workday commuter traffic to in-town jobs.
Forward movement on Kalaeloa’s master plan signals a chance for a fresh start on this long-neglected Leeward stretch, an opportunity to forge a model for redevelopment that the state can proudly claim. But while there’s plenty of promise in the future, expect plenty of challenges, too.