The city is considering buying 1615 Ala Wai Blvd., a derelict apartment building sandwiched between the Watermark, one of Oahu’s toniest condominiums, and freshly renovated walk-up apartments.
The building, which has been vacant some 20 years, has a history of complaints with the city Department of Planning and Permitting going back more than a decade. The condition of the roughly 9,500 square-foot, fee-simple property also has resulted in complaints to police.
The city’s Department of Land Management Director Sandy Pfund said, “The city has received numerous complaints and questions about the condition of the property … and has reached out to the owners to determine if there is any interest in selling the property.”
Pfund said the city is interested in rehabilitating the property for affordable rental housing, but that plans are very preliminary.
“Nothing is set at this time. The city will need approval to access the parcel in order to determine its condition and the feasibility of a possible reuse of the property,” she said.
Norman Nip, a small-business owner who is known for Nip’s Potato Chips, owns the property along with his brother Alvin Nip and sister Donna Chang.
Norman Nip, the family spokesman, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. But he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in July that the property was for sale but that he hadn’t listed it or settled on a price. Nip said he had turned down previous offers for $3.2 million and $5.5 million from investors in the 1980s. The property currently has a tax-assessed value of about $275,000 and sits on land worth approximately $2.7 million.
If the city’s plans go forward, it would add to its affordable housing efforts in Waikiki, which last year saw the opening of 436 Ena Road, the first city-developed project in Waikiki that accepted Housing First vouchers. In that case, the city utilized Community Development Block Grant funds to acquire the eight-story building and parking structure, which now provides 33 units of affordable housing, as well as a facility to provide various services to low- and moderate-income households. Most of the rental units are earmarked for singles making $67,500 or less, or couples making $77,150 or less. However, 20% are reserved for homeless singles or couples from Waikiki.
Honolulu City Councilman Tommy Waters, who represents Waikiki, said he supports city plans to purchase the property. But he said if that falls through, he’s “toying with the idea” of introducing a resolution to condemn the property.
“The thing is it’s too dangerous to have that in the condition it is and have people continue to hang out there and do bad things,” Waters said. “I drove down there to check it out myself and it’s in deplorable condition and the owner is clearly not putting any effort into making it better.”
DPP, which last visited the property in June, has investigated more than 12 complaints dating back to 2008, for overgrowth and litter on the property, graffiti and the poor condition of the structure. In six of the complaints, DPP issued notices of violation and two of them escalated to notices of order but that only resulted in approximately $578 worth of fines.
There also have been numerous complaints to police about break-ins. Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said since January there had been 17 calls for service at the property, mostly for trespassing and nuisance complaints.
As such, the building has become the scourge of the neighborhood. It’s the only undeveloped three-story walk-up in a complex of five that were built seven or eight decades ago.
Waikiki Neighborhood Board member Kathryn Henski said she is pleased that city officials are moving forward with solutions.
“The longer that the building sits there in its current condition the more trouble that it attracts,” Henski said. “I’m thrilled at the prospect of creating affordable housing and helping to take care of some of the homeless issues that we’ve had for so very, very long.”
Henski said the property’s current state reminds her of the long-vacant home in Makiki that caught fire Sept. 3 after years of complaints about out-of-control litter, overgrown brush and occupation by vagrants.
“That was very scary and it could happen here, too,” she said.
Waikiki Neighborhood Board member Jeff Merz, whose district encompasses the derelict property, said swift action is imperative.
“It’s not just an aesthetic thing. It’s an eyesore that could lead to potential vagrancy or fires. There’s also proof that crime goes up in communities when you have degraded buildings that no one seems to care about,” Merz said. “Anything would be an improvement there and it would be great to get it renovated into housing that we need. I’d support some mix of workforce housing or affordable housing, Housing First or senior housing.”
Waters said if the property is condemned the action must serve a public purpose. He said that he would potentially support and fund efforts to put affordable housing or even some type of a homeless shelter at the site.
“Each Council member is allocated a $2 million fund for homeless. I’m willing to allocate the entire $2 million for that and hopefully the city would kick in a little more,” Waters said.