For a lot of people in Hawaii, trade winds serve as air conditioning, an important job considering the high cost of electricity in the state.

But a potential development in Aiea has some residents concerned about whether their homes will have trade winds anymore.

Robertson Properties Group is hoping to turn the former Kamehameha Drive-In property into a sweeping urban village with up to 1,500 new homes, including several tall buildings.

Because of the project’s large scale, the company commissioned an environmental impact report to allay Aiea residents’ concerns.

The study analyzes one aspect you might not expect — the impact of the development on the wind environment. According to the developer, the trade wind study is unique and goes one step further than a typical EIS.

From 60 to 350 Feet

The proposed project, called “Live, Work, Play Aiea,” includes residential, commercial, retail, and public spaces. The development would include five buildings and up to 1,500 homes, in addition to more than 220,000 square feet of office and commercial space.

“It would be a massive change in the way things are,” said Lawrence Cohen, a member of the Aiea Neighborhood Board. “In the long term it may be a positive thing but in the short term it will certainly ruffle some feathers.”

Although Cohen has only been a member of the neighborhood board for a year, he said that the project has been a hot topic for much longer than that and has been addressed at every meeting he’s attended.

Community concerns include traffic, parking and noise, Cohen said. He said the two biggest issues discussed at previous neighborhood board meetings include the effect on the sewer system and the height of the new buildings.

In addition to the usual building permits, the company is applying for a zone change approval.

The site is currently considered a B-2 community business district, which limits the height of any new development to 60 feet.

Robertson Properties Group wants to change the zoning classification to increase the limit to 350 feet, which would allow the company to build one 350-foot building and four shorter buildings ranging from 150 to 300 feet tall.

The project originally proposed three 350-foot buildings and two 60-80 foot buildings.

Tall Buildings and Trade Winds

The potential for buildings upwards of 300 feet led some neighbors to worry not only about the loss of their views, but also the loss of trade winds that they rely on to cool their homes.

“How would the project especially the high density buildings have an impact on the trade winds especially on the Harbor Pointe Townhouses?” Aiea resident Arlyn Kepo’o-Beckman wrote in a comment submitted to the developer. “Would it be more hot due to no tradewinds because of blockage or will it produce wind tunnels?”

The final environmental impact statement (pdf) found that the buildings would block some wind. But they would also accelerate the wind in other instances.

Tom Schnell, a senior associate with PBR Hawaii & Associates, Inc., is the man behind the EIS. He said the company did the trade winds study voluntarily, even though it wasn’t required.

The findings aren’t so simple, he said. In fact, the impact on the wind environment is hardly conclusive.

“Depending on which way the wind is blowing it would have different impacts,” Schnell said. “In some instances the winds will be accelerated in some areas winds will be decreased.”

He added: “This study didn’t conclude that there will be significant or non-significant impacts.”

Gary Chock, a structural engineer and president of Martin & Chock, a consulting structural engineering organization, said the analysis of how a new development would change the effect of winds on the local environment was “neither unique nor common, somewhere in between.”

It’s been done before, he said, but it’s not typical.

“In Hawaii I would consider this to be going an extra step,” Chock said. “There are major buildings here that are often constructed [without such analyses].”

Chock said the methodology was sound and the conclusions appeared reasonable.

“They’re using a technique which is considered technically valid for this application and it’s actually state-of-the-art CFD,” Chock said. “This particular firm that they use is considered a leader in North America for this type of study.”

Chock said that the analysis of how the development impacts the wind environment had been conducted previously with the construction of the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Waikiki in the 1980s.

Nick Grube contributed to this report.

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