How do you see the future of Honolulu?

That was the question citizens were asked Thursday night, and their answers could well shape the island — everything from agriculture to housing to energy — over the next 25 years.

The City and County of Honolulu kicked off the process to update the Oahu General Plan with a meeting at the Mission Memorial Auditorium that was sparsely attended by a few dozen active citizens and the planners who love them.

Scott Ezer, a consultant for the city whose firm is handling the public input process, explained that it’s very early in the game and that residents can have an impact. “We haven’t made any decisions about anything,” he said.

The General Plan won’t have a colored map or get down into the nitty gritty of parcel-by-parcel land use suggestions. Instead, it’s a policy statement of island-wide goals and priorities — “a written commitment … to a future that (the city) considers to be both desirable and attainable,” Ezer said.

The General Plan is used as the inspiration for Development Plans and Sustainable Communities Plans, which start to hone in on specific regional issues. From those plans, city planners can implement zoning and permitting decisions.

But David Tanoue, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP), said there’s admittedly an “implementation gap” between the General Plan’s lofty goals and what happens in reality.

“When you do these plans, you’re kind of projecting, you’re kind of guessing, and the farther out you go the more you’re guessing, basing on certain assumptions, but there are different trends and things happen,” he said. “On one hand, we have the general plan and the directives and the policy statements in there. On the other hand, we have the day-to-day understanding of what’s going on, what’s the reality.”

He pointed to the Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan, which is currently being amended and could call for increased development near Laie due to a pent-up housing demand, with an average of nearly six people per household, tops in the state. Opponents have complained that the general plan says Koolau Loa should be home to less than 2 percent of the island’s populace.

Tanoue, an attorney, said that where the General Plan doesn’t line up with existing zoning, the latter carries the day. But he said the city has hired a consultant to look at amending the Land Use Ordinance to reflect the policy statements in the General Plan and Sustainable Communities Plan — a proactive way of making sure reality adheres to policy.

Ezer and his team will compile the input from the public — an online survey, public testimony and written statements submitted through Sept. 1 — and start to put together proposed changes. Concerns raised by citizens — sustainability, high-rise apartment buildings and Hawaii’s unique culture — were among the 11 key planning issues identified by DPP.

More public meetings will be held this fall and in early 2012. Eventually a draft will be submitted to the city’s Planning Commission, and the Honolulu City Council will adopt the final updated plan.

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