Buckle up, because the Honolulu City Council is coming to your neck of the woods to talk about the long-term future of your community.

The ride starts Thursday, continues next week in Kapolei and won’t stop for months.

After a quiet year in 2011, the Council is ready to roll in 2012. Of all the key issues facing Honolulu in 2012, perhaps none will take as much of the Council’s time and energy as community planning.

The city is due — in some cases, long overdue — for five-year updates to its various Sustainable Communities Plans (SCPs) and Development Plans (DPs), the documents that guide the future of Oahu. There are eight of them in all, and it’s possible that six could be reviewed and modernized this year.

“(The Department of Planning and Permitting) said with each succeeding Sustainable Communities Plan that will be coming up for review, they expect it to be more contentious than the previous one,” Council Chair Ernie Martin told Civil Beat as he looked forward to 2012. “So you can expect that in terms of the testimony that will be coming out. There will be a significant amount of testimony from the community. I think there will be a lot of emotional testimony.”

The main issue that will be debated, repeatedly, is finding a balance between preserving outlying areas’ rural character and allowing development touted as job-creating and quality-of-life-improving. That main challenge will manifest itself in a number of ways in different settings.

Some conflicts will focus on industrial uses, others on commercial or hotel developments, and still others on housing communities. Those proposals could displace farming operations or conservation land. The specifics are unique to each plan, but the themes are the same.

A year ago, the Council’s Planning Committee ventured to Haleiwa to take input on that plan and got largely positive feedback from the development-averse citizens. An ordinance was passed a couple of months later updating the North Shore SCP.

That plan and the Primary Urban Center Development Plan are the only two not on the docket for 2012.

The issues that cropped up in Haleiwa — and at the contentious Koolau Loa public meeting that centered on the controversial Envision Laie master development — promise to be front and center again and again this year.

Here’s the to-do list, according to an update from the Department of Planning and Permitting late last year:

  • Waianae SCP — Last updated in July 2000, the Zoning and Planning Committee will discuss and possibly amend the update today at Honolulu Hale
  • Central Oahu SCP — Last updated in December 2002, a public review draft is scheduled to be released in Spring 2012
  • Ewa DP — Last updated in August 1997, the Planning Commission received a proposed ordinance in October 2011
  • Koolau Loa SCP — Last updated in October 1999, a draft was floated late in 2010 and public comments were collected and reviewed throughout 2011
  • East Honolulu SCP — Last updated in April 1999, will be circulated for public review early this year
  • Koolau Poko SCP — Last updated in August 2000, will also be circulated this year

“In the sustainable plans, you’re going to see a lot more of a desire for rural character to be preserved, for country to be preserved, for agriculture to be preserved, and for development, in a perfect world, to be curbed,” Zoning and Planning Committee Chair Ikaika Anderson told Civil Beat in a recent interview at his office. “Or, if there is to be development, that it be extremely limited with much room for the community to be involved in the process.”

Anderson said there are some areas simply not suited for further growth. The Windward side road infrastructure can’t handle any additional traffic, and it’ll be “next to impossible” to widen the highway or build other highways through the narrow area between the Koolau mountains and the ocean. Even East Honolulu, he said, is nearing its carrying capacity.

“So there are these areas that you’re just not going to be able to build out anymore,” he said. “Development at this point I would say would have to be in Central or Leeward Oahu along where the proposed mass transit system is going to be serving.”

Yes, rail hovers over everything when it comes to planning the island’s future. And while Anderson said it’s necessary to consider transit-oriented development as the city crafts updates to the sustainable and development plans, and eventually the island’s General Plan, he said it’ll be extremely difficult to squeeze TOD into those updates this year.

The first such plan on the agenda for this year — and one that won’t be directly impacted by rail — is the Waianae SCP. There have already been contentious debates about the future of the region, much of it focusing on the so-called “purple spot” of light industrial zoning in Lualualei Valley.

Last week, a group of concerned citizens called on District 1 Council member Tom Berg to make good on a pledge to amend the proposed update to remove the purple spot. They even scheduled what they called a “community accountability session.” Berg had already submitted paperwork that, if approved by his colleagues, would take the purple spot out of the plan.

Anderson said previously that he’s generally inclined to defer to the council member of the district, because those members “more often than not, will directly know what the wishes of his or her constituents are.”

He also said he was open to removing the purple spot, after hearing a mix of testimony for and against the plan.

“At this juncture, I would say the committee is favorable towards removing the light industrial park. It seems there is support from the committee to do that,” Anderson said. “I can’t say that the testimony regarding the light industrial area or purple spot was overwhelmingly in opposition or in support, but I do believe that there are compelling arguments to be made on both sides.”

The Council received that testimony when it went to Kapolei Hale in November, largely to deal with Leeward Oahu issues.

It’ll be going back to Kapolei Hale next week for another full meeting, according to the Council’s calendar.

A tentative schedule shared by Martin’s office shows the Council could return to Kapolei for the April meeting, and is targeting a to-be-determined Windward Oahu site for its November meeting.

It’s too far away to know for sure if the sustainable and development plans will be on the agendas for those meetings. But considering how many of them are scheduled to come up this year, it’s a safe bet that community planning will be a regular topic of discussion.

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