Neighbors of the 7000 Hawaii Kai Drive project by Avalon are beginning to get a sense of what they have to look forward to by the summer of 2016.

A crane sits on the construction site, towering over the homes that once had an unobstructed view of Koko Head and plenty of sunshine. Residents can try to guess at how much the 90-feet tall, 10-floor buildings that will soon rise on this property will block out the sunshine or stand in the way of the winds.

This computer-generated picture is the best sense that the Hawaii Kai community has been given of what to expect from the finished project. It is a far cry from the project that was approved by the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board in 2004.

An artists rendering of the 7000 Hawaii Kai Drive project by Avalon that is being built in Hawaii Kai.

At the last meeting of the Neighborhood Board, Chair Greg Knudsen delivered on the promise he had made the previous month: to place on the agenda a motion to rescind the board’s approval.

A few board members described his effort as a waste of time since the Department of Planning and Permitting had given the developer the green light despite the fact that several conditions of the agreement on which the Neighborhood Board’s approval was based do not seem to have been honored.

Included in that agreement was the understanding that the new buildings would not obstruct any views, and setbacks as well as features such as stepped roofs would be incorporated.

Chair Knudsen explained that he had sent a letter to the DPP inquiring as to how the permits were given when the developer had clearly not respected the agreement on which the board’s approval had been based.

If the evolving story of 7000 Hawaii Kai Drive tells us anything, it should tell us the system is broken and needs to be fixed before people lose faith altogether.

Apparently the DPP apologized for the lack of an adequate explanation for the approval and remarked that if the letter from the board been sent earlier, things might have turned out differently.

Chair Knudsen noted that the developer came before the board to present its plans for its radically different design just weeks before construction was to commence. This narrowed the window of time the board had to respond to news that the permits had been obtained, despite the failure to adhere to the agreement with the Neighborhood Board.

Some members of the board pointed to the futility of a motion to rescind the approval now when construction had already commenced. Some defended the developer’s efforts and their right to make a profit, which is a point that was never in dispute. One even called us at home one morning at 6.40 a.m. after an earlier opinion piece we wrote was published, to defend the developer.

But others, like Carl Makino, pointed out that they had joined the board to serve the community. “As projects morph, the least we can do is not just roll over. We can ask the city why they acted counter to a Neighborhood Board decision. The board should receive an explanation. If the spirit of the Neighborhood Board is to provide input to the city, then I don’t want to be told to let it go; that it’s going to happen anyway. I want to have my say.”

Chair Knudsen reiterated the importance of standing on principle and insisting on the integrity of the process, even if there was little hope of mitigating the impact of this particular project.

“I think, as the voice of the community, the board has a duty to speak up when they are being run over by a well-oiled machine,” said Knudsen. His motion to rescind was seconded by Liza Lockard who pointed out that taking a principled position on this issue, regardless of the practicality of what could be accomplished by it, was needed to send a clear signal to developers.

Seventy percent voted to rescind the earlier approval, but still lost the vote because four members were either absent or abstained.

Several other board members shared his perspective — but seven ayes was still one vote short of the number needed to rescind approval for 7000 Hawaii Kai Drive. Still, it was seven voices for integrity and principle in the face of questionable business practices and an apparently deeply flawed permitting process.

And it is on the record.

Are Neighborhood Boards Really Citizen Participation — or just a show?

The city has touted the value of Neighborhood Boards repeatedly. We even have a city commission on Neighborhood Boards with dedicated staff who talk about the value of  “full citizen participation in government so that the powers of the city can properly serve and advance the aspirations of its citizens.”

If the evolving story of 7000 Hawaii Kai Drive tells us anything, it should tell us the system is broken and needs to be fixed before people lose faith altogether.

For now, we, as members of the Hawaii Kai community thank Chair Knudsen and other board members for their service and insistence on the notion of integrity, a notion regarded as simply quaint, perhaps, among those intent on maximizing profit.

Dawn Morais Webster & John Webster are residents of Hawaii Kai. They attended and spoke at the last three Board meetings.

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