KAPOLEI — The last time a developer tried to replace more than 1,500 acres of quality Kapolei farmland with thousands of new homes and businesses, it didn’t go over so well.

But if Wednesday night’s Makakilo-Kapolei-Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board is any indication — and there’s no guarantee that it is — then the redesigned Hoopili development project has a real chance this time around.

The proposal to build nearly 12,000 new homes, create spaces for five new schools and make available enough retail space to provide 7,000 new local jobs was unanimously recommended by the board — and approved 102-2 in an unscientific one-by-one voice count of meeting attendees conducted by the board chair before the vote.

Much of the board indicated they were true believers who had always supported Hoopili, and the majority of citizens in attendance sported shirts expressing support for masons, carpenters or other labor unions who support the project for the construction jobs it will create. So the votes are hardly a surprise.

But the admitted change of heart of one former skeptic bodes well for D.R. Horton-Schuler Division, the project’s developer, as it heads into a meeting with the state agency that scuttled the plan about two years ago.

Neighborhood Board member Jack Legal said he’d previously had concerns about traffic, infrastructure, and most of all, the “destruction” of high-quality farmland that is currently home to Aloun Farms. But Hoopili’s outreach to the community for ideas and the willingness to incorporate those ideas convinced Legal to support the project.

“It seems to me that those concerns were addressed,” he said before casting one of the eight votes to support the project. “The way it is presented tonight, this project … will create jobs and it’s a fair approach that Schuler has actually given time to the community and given respect to who we are and what we are about.”

One of the key changes from the previous incarnation of Hoopili to this new plan is the inclusion of “urban agriculture” in the design. A number of “steward” home lots will have space for gardens and fruit trees and a five-acre community garden will allow others to grow their own food.

Those efforts are underpinned by Hoopili’s decision to bring on Nalo Farms Owner Dean Okimoto, former president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation. Okimoto made part of Hoopili’s presentation to the Neighborhood Board and answered some of the questions from concerned community members.

He acknowledged the project will take quality agricultural land, but said there’s more than enough farmland in Hawaii to accommodate farmers, who are in short supply. He pointed to Chino Farm in a San Diego subdivision as an example of how agriculture can play a role in a local community, and said Aloun has already found 600 acres elsewhere to move to.

Most of all, Okimoto’s credibility and connections in the agriculture industry could make it tougher for opponents of the project to say it’s not ag-friendly.

The matter is expected to come before the Land Use Commission agenda June 30, though no agenda has yet been posted. The Save Oahu Farmlands Alliance, which did not make a public statement at Wednesday’s meeting, has already started to organize a rally for the LUC meeting.

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