Editorial: Rethink project at Sherwoods
There is nothing nefarious about the Waimanalo Bay Beach Park Master Plan. It is the result of more than 10 years of planning, spurred by area residents who wanted something better for Waimanalo: decent athletics fields to replace the unusable ones down the road, as well as other amenities, like a playground, ample parking and new restrooms.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
There is nothing nefarious about the Waimanalo Bay Beach Park Master Plan. It is the result of planning going back more than 10 years, spurred by area residents who wanted something better for Waimanalo: decent athletics fields to replace the unusable ones down the road, as well as other amenities, like a playground, ample parking and new restrooms.
But the recent and persistent community outcry when Phase I of construction began last month — with demonstrations and a blockade of the park entrance that resulted in 28 arrests — should give the city pause. Passions are high, and a cooling-off period is required. Also required is some hard thinking about the adequacy of current processes for engaging the community in proposed public works projects.
The final environmental assessment (EA) for the master plan, issued in 2012 when Peter Carlisle was mayor, included comments from the general public and other interested stakeholders. They were generally thoughtful and mostly supportive — nothing resembling the vigorous opposition demonstrated in recent weeks. But notably, there was significant concern about maintaining the natural environment of the area popularly known as Sherwood Forest, or Sherwoods.
The EA noted that one of the strong themes important to the park was to “maintain the security and rural, forested character of the Park.”
The city last month began work on the project’s Phase I, which involves clearing about 4 acres of the 74-acre park to make room for a multipurpose field, playground and an 11-stall parking lot. So far, most of the 4 acres have been cleared, and a new waterline has been partially installed.
The full master plan is more expansive. It includes a softball/Little League-sized field, a full-sized baseball field and two other multipurpose fields. There would be two new large group camping/gathering areas and more than double the number of parking stalls, from 182 to 470.
Opponents argue that times have changed, and they have a point. As social media helps draw more people to the beautiful and relatively unspoiled Waimanalo beaches, traffic has gotten worse; it’s stop-and-go on the two-lane Kalanianaole Highway during the weekends. A major recreational development is likely to draw even more people to the park, especially since it would include athletic fields for team sports.
There also is a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group, Save our Sherwoods, that seeks to stop the project. The suit argues, among other things, that the EA was inadequate and that various land use controls and historic preservation laws were bypassed.
The suit also alleges that public participation was inadequate: “The contractor consulted with approximately 0.01 percent of Waimanalo’s residents.”
It seems unlikely that most Waimanalo residents were fully aware of the scope of a project that would transform Sherwoods from a bucolic, low-density beach park to something dramatically different. It behooves local politicians as well as contractors to recognize that projects of such ambition require going beyond the usual public notices to ensure that the larger community is well aware of the ramifications. The same lesson is being learned, belatedly, with the Ala Wai flood control project, as alarmed residents push back against plans to build a wall along the Ala Wai Canal and large detention basins upstream.
In the meantime, what to do? The process of building public projects must be orderly and predictable; it can’t be held hostage to pop-up protests, however well-intentioned. That’s why, the merits of the lawsuit aside, Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s plan to complete Phase I as planned and then stop to hear community views makes the most sense for now. After all, as evidenced by the very existence of the master plan, there is more than one side to this issue.