We wanted to respond to the Sierra Club’s recent opinion article (“Ho‘opili and Koa Ridge Just Aren’t Pono,” July 27, 2011) challenging our approach to Ho‘opili – O‘ahu’s first sustainable, walkable, healthy-lifestyle-focused, and agriculture-oriented “traditional” community that’s being planned for ‘Ewa.

We want the Sierra Club to know that the model community they describe – “one that is based on carefully laid plans to direct smart growth for the families of today and for our kids” – is exactly what is being proposed with Ho‘opili. We remain hopeful that once they have all of the facts, they will support this project as a leader in the kind of wise, thoughtful, and pono land use planning and holistic community development that we hope will become the norm here in our islands.

Let me respectfully correct some of the misinformation contained in the article, and share some of the exciting features of this new community that was designed to not only be good for our environment, but good for people too, enabling them to live a healthier lifestyle where they can grow their own food, make their own energy, and walk everywhere — to work, schools, shops and parks.

Ho‘opili – Grow your own food

Ho‘opili does not, as the Sierra Club suggests, “pit preservation of prime farm land against urban development.” In fact, it does just the opposite.

Ho‘opili is the first community in Hawai‘i to integrate food production – including small farms, community gardens and home gardens — as part of its design. Unlike traditional communities that contain little, if any, agriculture on site, Ho‘opili’s innovative Urban Agriculture Program calls for more than 250 acres of land be dedicated to food production, fully integrating these farms and gardens throughout the community.

Not only will Ho‘opili’s Urban Agriculture Program create beautiful green landscapes for residents to enjoy, it will also provide a source of fresh and healthy locally-produced food for their consumption. Ho‘opili will provide the opportunity to farm more than 15 percent of its developable acreage. That translates into approximately 159 acres for small commercial farms, approximately eight acres of urban land for use as community gardens, and the opportunity for an additional 84 acres in home gardens.

Dean Okimoto, owner of the highly successful Nalo Farms, oversees Ho‘opili’s Urban Agriculture Program and summed up the initiative this way: “This is the first time in Hawai‘i a developer has incorporated food production right within the project. It is a powerful idea and it is an old one. That’s because Ho‘opili takes us back to how we used to live in Hawai‘i. Back in the day, most folks grew something in their backyard – mangoes, lychee, tomatoes – and they shared their harvest with their neighbors. Ho‘opili will revive this wonderful custom and island tradition. “

In short, Ho‘opili does exactly what the Sierra Club says should be our collective goal: “Pono growth should consider both Hawai‘i’s current and long-term food needs, and the security of future generations.”

Ho‘opili – Live a healthy lifestyle

We quite agree with the Sierra Club that traditional development has hurt our physical health, and has resulted in an “explosion of …diseases like diabetes and obesity…” At Ho‘opili, our goal is to reverse these disturbing trends and promote a healthier lifestyle for residents. In fact, Ho‘opili is the first community in Hawai‘i to conduct at Health Impact Assessment Report as part of our planning process.

The premise behind the master plan for Ho`opili is that the built environment—streets, sidewalks, buildings and other infrastructure—can affect human health in positive ways. We believe it is possible to improve public health in Hawai‘i through conscientious community planning and design. Providing high-quality, healthy living environments for the people of Hawai‘i should be considered as being part of all new developments in Hawai‘i.

Obviously, people who live in places where driving is the only feasible option for commuting and running errands get less exercise and are less healthy, while people who live in walkable communities are more active and healthier. This is particularly relevant in Hawai‘i, where the climate is conducive to physical fitness, but sedentary lives and poor diet choices have greatly increased the obesity and diabetes statistics in our state.

To make Ho`opili a healthy place to live, we’ve master-planned it with pedestrian and bike paths that wind throughout the 1,554-acre community and connect homes with shops, restaurants, schools, parks and various modes of transportation. The result is neighborhoods where most daily activities are close by. Placing recreational facilities, schools and shopping within the community means that convenience trips that make up so much of daily driving can also be made by walking or biking.

In short, far from being the “car-reliable suburban model” that Sierra Club describes, Ho`opili allows people to get out of their cars and enjoy living in a community where most things – jobs, schools, parks and shops – are no more than just a 10-minute walk away.

Ho‘opili – Complete the vibrant “second city”

While we agree with the Sierra Club that we do need to continue to redevelop O‘ahu’s urban core, we know that there are physical constraints with this strategy. As many are now aware, the Sand Island sewage treatment plant is nearing capacity with talks of a moratorium on building from Niu Valley to downtown, not to mention the fractured land ownership in areas identified by Sierra Club, e.g. Moiliili and McCully. This is not a long-term, sustainable strategy. Instead, we believe that a robust, second urban core must be developed, providing residents an alternative to living in working in downtown Honolulu.

To fully appreciate Ho‘opili, it is important to understand the strategy behind the design, the location, and how it all fits into the master development plan for the area.

The City’s ‘Ewa Development Plan is a visionary document that calls for thoughtful, controlled growth in West O‘ahu, by creating a true secondary urban center.

No longer would residents need to drive to downtown Honolulu to go to work or to see a movie. Instead, the ‘Ewa Plain would become a place where people could walk, bike, or take public transportation to area shops, restaurants, schools, parks and jobs — everything residents needed to enjoy a high quality lifestyle.

Today, ‘Ewa is the fastest-growing region in all of Hawai‘i. Much of the original vision has become a reality. Let’s look at just some of the exciting new developments taking place there:

University of Hawai‘i – West O‘ahu – Construction is underway at the new UH-West ‘Oahu campus that will bring higher education to West O‘ahu residents and is designed to serve approximately 7,600 students and 1,000 faculty and staff.

Salvation Army Kroc Center – The Kroc Center, expected to open in late 2011, will be the largest community center of its kind in Hawai‘i, featuring conference and banquet rooms, performing arts and athletic centers, a state-of-the-art health & wellness center, an aquatics center and other amenities.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina – Scheduled to open in the fall of 2011, Aulani features 350 hotel rooms and 481 vacation villas, restaurants, a conference center, snorkel lagoon and spa. When it opens, Aulani will create 2,200 jobs and is expected to draw approximately 107,000 new visitors to O‘ahu.

All of these facilities will need the support services – including homes, shops and restaurants – that Ho‘opili will provide.

Ho‘opili completes the ‘Ewa vision and provides the last – and until now, missing – piece to make the second city a complete community. Without Ho‘opili, this vision cannot be fulfilled.

Ho‘opili – A sustainable future

As a kama‘āina company with deep roots in Hawai‘i, we know the importance of working with the community to create homes and neighborhoods that add, and don’t detract from, the quality of life here in the islands. Our company has a reputation for being “green” builders and for designing homes and communities that reflect the unique characteristics of the area. Over the last six years we’ve reached out to hundreds of residents, community leaders, local businesses, native Hawaiian cultural experts and others to help guide us in the planning and development process.

We welcome the community’s continued input and feedback on the draft plans and want to hear people’s thoughts and ideas. We will continue to work closely with the community and maintain an open, transparent, dialogue, keeping the community informed throughout the review and approval process via our website (www.hoopilioahu.com), monthly newsletter, community presentations and other communications.

We hope we can count on your support for this new community that was designed by and for the people of West O‘ahu, and that represents the kind of smart-growth, people-, agriculture- and environmentally-friendly development that will ensure a brighter future for Hawai‘i.

About the author: Cameron Nekota serves as vice president of D.R. Horton – Schuler Division, in charge of overseeing the land use entitlement process for Ho‘opili. He lives in West O‘ahu.