The release of President Barack Obama’s full birth certificate doesn’t mean controversy over his Hawaii roots will go away. A much smaller dilemma — one regarding not where he was born but where he lived — is still unresolved.

From 1964-1967, the commander-in-chief lived at 2234 University Ave. in Manoa with his mother and grandparents. The one-story dwelling sits on an 11,250-square-foot lot and has an ohana unit in the back.

The president recalls it as, “the big, rambling house near the University,” in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.”

But after it was bought around five years ago, early plans called for its destruction, to be replaced by a parking lot. However, after it was found that the house had ties to the president, that idea was nixed.
Now, the hope is to use the home’s lawn as a parking lot.

The Honolulu Christian Church purchased the house and lot in December of ’06. Just about 200 feet separate the church and the home.

The church bought the property for $1.2 million. But it didn’t know anything about the Obama connection when it made the purchase, administrator Don Hirata told Civil Beat.

The church only learned that it was Obama’s childhood home in early November of ’08, shortly after the election.

“We were having our renovation fundraiser and it was a big party to show what we were doing and we looked in the paper and saw the photo of the house we bought and how Obama spent time in it. We were thrilled.”

The church, which has a congregation of just under 400, holds services in English and Japanese. The groups share the sanctuary.

It wants to build another sanctuary and bought the lot with Obama’s childhood home on it to add parking spaces.

Virginie Ching, her husband and two kids have lived in Obama’s old home for nearly five years. They believe the house and surrounding area should stay the way it is.

“Drives me insane that they want to turn something so beautiful in Manoa into a parking lot,” Ching told Civil Beat.

Neighbors like Nathaniel Ching (no relation to Virginie) also don’t want to see a parking lot in the area.

“We want to keep it residential,” he told Civil Beat. “Once you make a parking lot, you’re making it commercial. Secondly, the entrance and exit are going to be on busy University Avenue and I’m sure they’ll use it on weekdays as well.”

Nathaniel Ching, a retired doctor, has lived next door to the house since 1980.

“At first, I didn’t know it had a connection to Obama,” Ching said. “The original house was re-modeled in 2005-06 and the new home doesn’t really resemble at all what it looked like when Obama’s family lived in it.”

On top of clogging up an already busy road in Manoa, Ching said homes nearby may lose value if the church goes ahead with its parking lot plan.

The church made a “test run” on Easter of 2007, he said.

“The church had its followers park on the lawn around the house,” Ching said. “I took pictures and then brought it up with the Manoa Neighborhood Board.”

Tom Heinrich, a longtime Manoa Neighborhood Board member, said the panel never took a stance on the matter.

“I think what the board did was communicate concerns in letter form to the church, summarizing the concerns expressed by us and others in the community,” he told Civil Beat.

The issue also picked up some national attention. It was featured in a July 5, 2009 New York Times article.

In the piece, Hirata was quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone in his right mind would break down a house that belonged to one of the presidents.”

Even though the house may be saved from destruction, what surrounds it is still in limbo.

Hirata said the church is currently doing a parking study on the property.

“That’s where the hang up is right now,” Hirata said. “The person doing it isn’t finished with it yet. It sounds like the city is waiting for the parking study.”

Hirata said the study began last year and it mainly looks into traffic issues in the area, with the heavy concentration of cars coming from schools like Punahou, UH-Manoa and Mid-Pac.

“We’re just re-organizing again and developed committees to go over this, to develop a general plan to go over exactly what we want,” Hirata said. “We don’t really want to make a parking lot. It’s only on paper, so we can show the city that we have enough parking within a certain area that they said we have to have. In order to do any kind of renovation, we have to show the city we have more parking.”

The city seems to not be buying that notion.

David Tanoue is the director of the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting.
In an email to Civil Beat, Tanoue wrote:

There is no pending application for an off-site parking facility at this address (2234 Univ. Ave.). We did not accept the most recent application for an off-site parking facility, submitted in September 2009, for processing.

Two conditional use permit (minor) applications related to this site were received on September 25, 2009. CUP application No. 2009/CUP-66 was to allow the major expansion of a meeting facility for Honolulu Christian Church at 2207 Oahu Avenue. This application could not be accepted for processing because it was incomplete.

Consequently, we also returned (and did not accept for processing) CUP application No. 2009/CUP-67 to establish an off-site parking facility at 2234 University Avenue, to meet with the parking requirements for the expanded facility off-site. Since we did not accept the meeting facility expansion application for processing, it was moot to consider the off-site parking application.

Hirata admits that the church wouldn’t hesitate to sell the property. It could use those funds to buy another home.

“Our real aim is to buy our next door neighbor’s house, in addition to the so-called ‘Obama House.’ They’ve got a big yard, it’s a private owner,” Hirata said.

So for now, the president’s childhood home will be enjoyed by renters. At least until the church is able to move full speed ahead with its plans.