A 50-stall metered parking lot still hasn’t been returned to the city a year after the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, opened its second tower.
Nor has the developer, Irongate, opened all of the public green space that it promised as a condition of its building approvals.
The city signed an agreement in March 2015 to allow the developer to stage equipment on a city-owned public parking lot as long as the contractor restored it to a usable and safe condition before returning it. The lot, which was closed in April 2015, was supposed to reopen by March 31.
However, the developer still hasn’t met the city Department of Transportation Services’ requirements for reopening.
The extended closure means that DTS is potentially losing up to $1,800 a day in meter payments or roughly $352,800 since the missed deadline. The city intends to charge $1.50 an hour to park in the lot, which is open 24 hours, seven days a week.
The delays have exacerbated the already tight parking situation in Waikiki, the state’s most densely populated neighborhood and its most important business district. It’s also marring credibility for the city Department of Planning and Permitting and the Honolulu City Council, which required Ritz-Carlton’s developers to provide public open, green space as a community giveback for the height, density and other building exceptions made during permitting for the planned resort development.
One of their proposals, Lau‘ula Park, touted as a 22,000-square-foot green space with two stages for community performances on the promenade, still hasn’t opened for public use.
That’s despite the fact that the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, opened last October after Irongate completed the project’s Diamond Head Tower, which brought the project to 552 units, making it the largest Ritz-Carlton Residences in the world. The project’s ‘Ewa Tower opened in July 2016.
From the start, the project was controversial.
Some supporters viewed the development as an important catalyst to the gentrification of the Kuhio Avenue side of Waikiki and a neighborhood upgrade for nearby residents. But some in the community still haven’t come to terms with the project’s staggering size, including the 350-foot height and horizontal positioning of ‘Ewa Tower, which required unpopular exemptions to Waikiki guidelines that protect views and limit height and density.
Protests over the Diamond Head Tower’s original design resulted in it being turned to allow greater spacing between the buildings and to preserve more of the surrounding community’s ocean views. While the redesign was more palatable to opponents, nearby residents still are complaining about light pollution from the development’s stairwells. But that’s been overshadowed by the latest criticism over lack of access to the public parking lot and promised public space.
The Ritz-Carlton, Irongate and the city were not forthcoming with the Star-Advertiser on when the parking lot was expected to reopen. However, Huy Vo, a spokesman for the Ritz-Carlton, said Lau‘ula Park will open to the public on Nov. 16, at noon as part of ANA Honolulu Music Week.
“We are hosting a free concert in the park featuring Eden Kai,” Vo said. “This will be a great offering for the community and also the first day we open Lau‘ula Park to the public. The hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and security will be provided by our hotel.”
DTS spokesman Travis Ota said the city allowed the Ritz-Carlton to use the parking lot to stage equipment because it would “avoid taking parking on the streets, causing traffic congestion.”
Ota said the department has been working with the developer’s contractor over the past several months to identify incomplete and insufficient items at the parking lot. While a number already were addressed by the contractor, Ota said DTS and the contractor continue working “to get the remaining items properly and safely handled, before turning it back over to the city for public usage.”
“These outstanding items include critical safety issues such as the installation of a stop sign and other signage, covering exposed electrical wiring and proper restoration of electrical connections, and relocation of the bike rack to meet ADA requirements,” he said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Upon turnover and acceptance, the city will remedy any incomplete punch list issues.”
But the city, the Ritz-
Carlton and its developers aren’t moving fast enough for all concerned, especially Waikiki Neighborhood Board members, most of whom voted against allowing the Ritz-Carlton’s second tower because they felt that the developer had not adequately considered community input.
Mark Harpenau, who lives in a condominium across from the Ritz-Carlton, said it’s important to hold the property and its developer to their promises since the project’s building permits likely wouldn’t have been approved otherwise.
To add insult to injury, Harpenau said, the city turned most of the neighborhood’s free street-parking into metered parking when it gave the Ritz-Carlton permission to take the public lot for staging.
“The city probably needed to make up for lost revenue from the lot’s closure. People are driving around the streets looking for parking spaces all the time now. Reopening the public parking lot would cut down a lot of the circling cars and traffic,” Harpenau said. “This needs to be a priority.”
Waikiki Neighborhood Board Chairman Bob Finley said he plans to address the developer’s lack of compliance at an upcoming board meeting.
“I’ve been deeply disturbed by the whole process,” Finley said. “It seems like this is just another reflection of the attitude that they showed to the community during the development process. It didn’t matter what the community wanted. They didn’t listen. It was if they were always saying, ‘To heck with you, we’ll do it our way.’”
Waikiki Neighborhood Board Vice Chairman Louis Erteschik said the city should make the developer keep its promises.
“As dismayed as I am by the generally recalcitrant behavior of the Ritz-Carlton, it’s pretty lame for the city not to pursue these things more vigorously,” Erteschik said. “If they are supposed to do it as a condition of a permit or an agreement, the city ought to have the fortitude to enforce any breaches of those agreements.”
Erteschik said failure to return the public parking spaces puts a strain on nearby residents and businesses and their patrons. It also poses a safety issue for those residents and customers who have to walk long distances, especially at night, to get to their destination, he said.
Waikiki Neighborhood Board member Jeff Merz said the delays suggest that the Ritz-Carlton and its developers made empty promises.
“It seems almost as if they don’t want people to establish a habit of going through their property to use the public parking lot and public space. They probably figure, ‘Let’s just drag our feet and the city won’t know what’s going on,’” Merz said. “It’s even more disturbing when you frame it in context of their failure to return prime real estate to the city resulting in lost revenue for our taxpayers. Absolutely, they need to come into compliance.”