Column: Let taller buildings rise at Ala Moana
A recent Star-Advertiser editorial identified a trend in the Ala Moana neighborhood: namely, more market-rate condos are being built instead of affordable housing (“No TOD benefits for luxury condos,” Our Vew, Oct. 2).
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A recent Star-Advertiser editorial identified a trend in the Ala Moana neighborhood: namely, more market-rate condos are being built instead of affordable housing (“No TOD benefits for luxury condos,” Our Vew, Oct. 2). The editorial attributed this trend in part to the lack of an approved transit-oriented development or TOD plan, which is currently in draft form. It also did not fully identify all the benefits that TOD offers Honolulu, or how the private sector, including the Ala Moana Center, can play a role in achieving them.
As a land use and transportation planning professor at the University of Hawaii, I have studied TOD in communities throughout the U.S. and Canada for many years. TOD districts are mixed-use hubs where residences, offices, stores, restaurants and civic services are located within convenient walking distance of transit stops. The Federal Transit Administration says, “Successful TOD depends on access and density around the transit station … density encourages people to use the transit system.”
High-density TOD increases transit usage, relieves traffic congestion, and encourages neighborhood revitalization. TOD also promotes vertical development, which is essential to meet the demand for more housing on an island where land is scarce. Building near transit centers reduces urban sprawl to other areas of Oahu, which enables us to keep the country, country.
Many TOD projects are under construction in the Ala Moana neighborhood in anticipation of rail’s final phase of construction. Planners anticipate that the Kona Street station at Ala Moana Center will have to accommodate 22,000-plus passengers per day, the largest of any station in the entire system.
The reason is simple. The Ala Moana neighborhood, anchored by Ala Moana Center, provides substantial employment opportunities, many retail and dining options, groceries and entertainment, a satellite city hall, and a post office, among many other activities and services. The wide variety of these activities and services also enable the residents of the Ala Moana neighborhood to realize the many benefits of city living.
The Ala Moana Neighborhood TOD plan should be amended to encourage smarter development both at and near the Kona Street transit station. Ala Moana Center should receive more height and density for its future development projects, given the type and scale of community benefits that it can provide.
Given that opportunity, Ala Moana Center could contribute to improved intersections and a safer pedestrian experience. It could provide more affordable housing, dedicated parking for rail ridership, bus transit centers, open space and public plazas. It could create additional employment by redeveloping underutilized parking areas over time.
The current TOD plan imposes very strict limits on building heights and floor area ratios on Ala Moana Center, ostensibly to protect views from Ala Moana Regional Park; however, land owners of other properties in the neighborhood can and have built tall buildings along both the Kapiolani Boulevard and Keeaumoku Street corridors directly mauka of the mall.
Ala Moana Center should be given similar limits on height and density because of the unique types of community benefits that only the center can provide as a world-class shopping center. It would also be in a much better position to integrate the Kona Street transit station with its shopping mall.
We must make the smart choice when it comes to development in this area, as redevelopment over time can and should directly benefit the community.
Residents stand to gain tremendously if Ala Moana Center is given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the planning process for this area. The current Ala Moana Neighborhood TOD plan should be amended to allow this to happen.
Peter Flachsbart, AICP, is an associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.